Gabe Kapler headed to make a pitching change on Thursday afternoon, readying to step from his perch on the dugout steps and onto the field. But before the Phillies manager even left the dugout in the sixth inning of a 5-0 win over Miami, he was greeted with a thundering of boos.
Kapler, managing his first game at Citizens Bank Park, was emphatically jeered by the home-opening crowd as he walked to the mound to lift Nick Pivetta after the righthander threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings but exhausted 97 pitches. It was the longest start this season by a Phillies pitcher. Pivetta pitched strong but a lefthanded hitter was coming up with two outs and a runner on.
This pitching change did not feel like a controversial decision. But this was no time to reason. Kapler had already been booed during the pregame introductions. There was unrest in the ballpark after a disappointing start to the season. The goodwill felt when Kapler was hired in October had already run out. And the fans were ripe to rip the new manager again.
The boos followed Kapler back to the dugout. His decision would pay off. Adam Morgan struck out Justin Bour on three pitches and the fans cheered. The Phillies used three relievers — Adam Morgan, Luis Garcia, and Hector Neris — to secure the win, which is the best way to stop the jeers. It was the team’s first win at a home opener since 2011.
“I’m going to work my [butt] off for these fans. I’m going to give them everything I have. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do. Work my tail off,” Kapler said. “Hopefully, over the course of time, they learn to trust that I am in this with them. Hopefully, over the course of time, they learn to trust that my process is strong. Hopefully, over the course of time, they understand we have great players and that’s where the attention should be focused.”
Rhys Hoskins said the boos were just a result of the fan’s passion. The Phillies entered Thursday with one win in their first five losses. Kapler had made a few questionable decisions on the team’s opening road trip. Pivetta said the fan’s reactions are out of the team’s control and that Kapler is a “great manager.”
“I get the arguments both ways,” Hoskins said. “We have full confidence in what’s going on here. We’re really excited about the culture that Gabe and his staff have established and brought here.”
Pivetta dominated the Marlins, striking out nine without a walk. He allowed just four hits and relied heavily on an effective fastball. He used his fastball for five of his strikeouts and mixed in a curveball to induce weak contact. He was able to keep his fastball around the strike zone, using it for 13 called strikes. His performance came against one of the weakest lineups in baseball. But it was still a welcomed sign for a pitcher who the Phillies have high hopes for this season.
“Everything was in or around the zone, keeping hitters off balance with a little stop, start or gas pedal, brake, but really demonstrating a lot of character and conviction out there on the mound,” Kapler said. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to push him up above 90 pitches because he just demonstrated consistent control of the game all the way through. Really impressive performance by Nick.”
The Phillies scored just two runs this week in their two losses in New York but came alive against the Marlins. Maikel Franco hit a double, triple, and homer. Odubel Herrera went 2 for 3 with an RBI single. Cesar Hernandez reached base three times. The Phillies walked nine times, two of which were intentional. They stole four bases and lead the majors in steal.
The Phillies saw 177 pitches, averaging 4.54 pitches per plate appearance. No other team has seen more pitches this season than the Phillies. They have used that grinding approach this season with the hope that an extended at-bat will force a pitcher to make a mistake and also run up a starter’s pitch count and force the bullpen to open. The approach would yield to runs, Kapler said. On Thursday, it did. And more Phillies runs, should mean less boos.
“They cheer for the players. That’s what matters the most,” Kapler said. “They cheer really loud for the players. If that’s the ultimate outcome — if every day they’re cheering the players, I’ll take that, 100 percent. I’m glad to wear that.”