Gabe Kapler's actions as Phillies manager an early cause for concern

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Phillies relief pitcher Hoby Milner was called into a game by manager Gabe Kapler Saturday night without having warmed up.

ATLANTA — One lost series that should have been won is no reason to condemn a manager for life. Remember, Charlie Manuel and Doug Pederson were once considered village idiots by some and look at how they are perceived now.

That said, the bumbling start to Gabe Kapler’s tenure as Phillies manager is one we are not likely to soon forget. If he repeats the work we saw from him in Atlanta during the team’s three-game series against the Mets that starts Monday night in New York, Kapler is sure to be booed with brio when pregame introductions are made before Thursday’s home opener at Citizens Bank Park.

That would be different in this year that promises to be poles apart from any other we’ve seen before.

If nothing else, Kapler’s confidence remained high even after losing two out of three to the Braves. He was undaunted by the criticism that came his way following the season opener when he removed Aaron Nola after only 68 pitches from a game the Phillies led, 5-0. And even after drawing the ire of umpire crew chief Jerry Layne for making a pitching change when Hoby Milner had not yet thrown a warm-up pitch in the third inning of Saturday night’s Atlanta massacre, Kapler still was able to mention his postseason expectations in his postgame question-and-answer session. Even Jim Mora Sr. would have laughed at that one.

“I feel two ways,” Kapler said when asked about the disappointment of his first series as Phillies manager. “First, it always stings to lose two out of three. You don’t ever want to lose one game, let alone a series. On the flip side, I would also convey that I’m keeping the long view in mind. This is not about three games, this is not about one game. It’s about 162 games and a postseason. And I won’t come off that position because it’s what I believe in my heart. I believe it strongly and we’re already on to New York.”

Kapler proceeded to mention how happy he was with his lineup even though some of the players in it weren’t thrilled they had to sit out one of three games in the opening series. Kapler is convinced his positional shuffle is going to work in the long run, but former Phillies bench coach and manager Larry Bowa warned in spring training that it could become an issue for the manager.

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“I think the biggest challenge he will face is advocating that everybody will play,” Bowa said. “So they’ve got a good problem for the organization, but it might be a bad problem for the players because they want to play. If you don’t want to play every day, then you don’t like baseball. If I’m Cesar [Hernandez], if I’m [Scott] Kingery, if I’m [J.P.] Crawford, if I’m [Maikel] Franco, I want to play every day. Obviously it’s not going to happen if you’ve watched the way they’ve done things in spring training. They want multiple position guys, so that’s going to be interesting. It’s a completely different world.”

Win and something like that can work. Lose and the delicate chemistry that cannot be measured by anyone in the analytics department will erode faster than a Phillies relief appearance during that opening series.

Camera icon TODD KIRKLAND
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler walks back to the dugout after a controversial pitching change in the third inning of Saturday’s game against the Braves in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Todd Kirkland)

Bowa and Manuel also had their reservations about the reliance on numbers to make managerial decisions. Both admitted that in this new age of baseball, analytics are absolutely necessary, but they still believe that eyes and instinct matter, too.

Kapler seemed to ignore those things when he made his decision to remove Nola and it does not really matter what he said to his staff ace the following day. Actions always speak louder than words and the manager decided to go with the numbers over what appeared to be happening on the mound on opening day.

Before the start of the season, Bowa had bullpen concerns because he felt the pitchers were being conditioned to throw only five innings.

“Whether you want to be old school, new school, whatever school, I want my pitcher going out there saying, ‘I’m going to give you nine.  Not that you’re going to let him throw 120 pitches, but there is a mind-set when you throw five your mind relaxes and you think you’ve done your job. All I’m saying is when you have to go to that bullpen every night for 12 outs, be careful.”

Through three games, the Phillies’ starters have recorded 36 outs and the bullpen has accounted for 44 and extra man Pedro Florimon has accounted for three.

“What I understand is that the usage of our bullpen has been to keep them safe and strong, which we have done,” Kapler said. “You can go back and look at the innings and how many pitches our guys have thrown and you’ll find we have kept them safe and strong.”

When you go back and look you might also see that the bullpen has a 7.47 ERA and is tied for the most innings pitched in the majors. Even the analytics department would not give those numbers a seal of approval.

“I am remaining 100 percent positive,” Kapler said. “I believe in this club. I believe in the men in that clubhouse. I believe in that coaching staff and there’s no chance that I’m going to let three games … derail what we’re trying to accomplish here, which is to go to the postseason in 2018, which I believe we will do.”

Those are only words. Right now Gabe Kapler’s actions are speaking a lot louder and they have raised some serious cause for concern.