Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler overthinks Opener

Relieving Nola created quite a stir among the Phillies faithful. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images.
Relieving Nola created quite a stir among the Phillies faithful. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images. /

Gabe Kapler overthinks things a bit too much, costing the Philadelphia Phillies a victory in the process.

Veteran Philadelphia Phillies observer Bob Brookover pointed to the team’s opportunity early this season five full days before Opening Day. “Through their first 43 games,” he noted, “the Phillies will play only two teams – Arizona and Washington – that had winning records a year ago.” Following a two-game series against Baltimore in mid-May, things would become a bit harder, but until then, he (and team executive Larry Bowa) implied the team should be able to put some distance between themselves and someone in the division.

Until May 16 the Phillies will face 2017 winning teams for only six games. Beginning May 17 and before the end of that month, they would then have eight games against the Cardinals and Dodgers and another six games against “losers” last year. That makes 43 very winnable games in eight weeks. The Phillies won only 66 games all last season. Seldom does a team so obviously face the truth in the commonplace remark that “the games count in April too.”

So, the time for speculating about whether New Age manager Gabe Kapler is merely a “shiny object” was over. How did the Phillies come out of the starting blocks? They started Mar. 29 against the Atlanta Braves, winners of only 72 games last season.

Opening Implosion

For the first five and a half innings of their opener, the Phillies looked strong. Their starting pitcher, Aaron Nola, had a 5-0 lead when he was pulled from the game. He had only given up three hits, one on a bunt. He had struck out the side in the third inning, relying on his excellent curve, after that bunt. Rhys Hoskins had driven in a run with a double. Cesar Hernandez had homered, and the other three runs were primarily a matter of right judgment (walks) and a single by Andrew Knapp.

However, Nola’s removal was Kapler’s first unconventional move of the season. The hurler had thrown only 68 pitches through 5.1 innings, and worse, the conventional decision to replace him with lefthander Hoby Milner against Freddie Freeman backfired when Freeman homered, cutting the lead to 5-2.

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Eventually, the relief pitchers who followed Milner failed, especially Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris, who gave up the game-losing, three-run homer to Nick Markakis in the ninth. The deceptive, sidearm righthander Pat Neshek never entered the game.

The Phillies lost 8-5, but Nola was rested. Kapler believes in rest. Weirdly, the manager had also pulled Rhys Hoskins in the middle of the eighth inning, presumably to assemble a stronger defensive outfield, so Hoskins is also rested following the first Phillies loss.

When he left the game, he had two doubles, a stolen base, and his uniform was dirty from sliding into bases. So he was probably wiped out, and thus, would not have been available in extra innings had Neris held onto the 5-5 tie he tried to protect.

Following the game,’s Todd Zolecki reported that Freeman made the following comment about Nola being pulled: “Once they took out a guy like that, it gave us a bolt of energy.”

Next: Some young Phillies get no pressers

The Phillies now have 42 winnable games to go before the end of May.