TORONTO — Gabe Kapler, from the top step in the visitors' dugout, looked across the field on Saturday afternoon and gathered all the intel he needed.
The Phillies manager spotted Blue Jays hitter Billy McKinney pause as he walked toward home plate in the seventh inning and glance to the home dugout. McKinney was checking to see if he was being lifted for a pinch-hitter. And that fleeting look sealed the crucial decision of an 8-6 loss.
Kapler had lefthander Luis Avilan primed in the bullpen to face the lefthanded McKinney, who had homered a day earlier. But McKinney's glance was enough to inform Kapler that the Blue Jays were considering a replacement. Had the Phillies used Avilan, the Blue Jays would have subbed McKinney for the righthanded Randal Grichuk.
So Kapler stuck with Nick Pivetta, whom he trusted to retire McKinney after Pivetta struck out the lefthander twice already. But that trust burnt the Phillies. McKinney rocked Pivetta's first-pitch fastball for a two-run homer to center field. A once five-run lead was trimmed to just one. Another gutting loss was beginning to unfold.
"We had a lot of confidence in him," Kapler said. "We felt he could go at the hitter and we gave him the opportunity to do so and it didn't work out."
The Phillies acquired Avilan from the Chicago White Sox earlier last week to give their bullpen a needed lefthanded option. They added him for situations like the one that presented itself on Saturday. He has not allowed a lefthanded hitter to record an extra-base hit since May 21. Avilan would not have faced McKinney, but it may not have been a total mismatch for Avilan to face Grichuk, who has just a .669 OPS this season against lefthanded pitching.
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"In some cases, you make them make that move," Kapler said. "So if that's the tying run, I think you make them make that move."
Justin Bour returned to the Phillies with optimism on Saturday afternoon after undergoing an MRI on Friday in Philadelphia to determine the severity of his strained left oblique.
The Phillies placed Bour on the 10-day disabled list on Thursday and oblique strains can usually take three or four weeks to heal. But his MRI labeled the injury "a mild strain," which allows Bour, who missed nearly two months last season after straining his right oblique, to believe he'll be back fairly soon.
"It's tough to really pin a day because you don't know how the body's going to react and how the body's going to heal, but I'm already feeling better and already making progressions to come back," Bour said. "Last year, it was totally different. I had ripped part of the ab off the bone. Totally different ball game."