Phillies

Gabe Kapler fired up to bring back John Middleton's bleeping trophy

Gabe Kapler fired up to bring back John Middleton's bleeping trophy

Gabe Kapler does his homework.

The 42-year-old stud muffin — did we really just say that? — was officially introduced as the 54th manager in Phillies history on Thursday. Kapler was polished and articulate as he spoke to reporters during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park. He addressed a couple of thorny issues head-on (see story). He spoke with the passion of a tent revival preacher — or was it Randy "Macho Man" Savage? — as he talked about inspiring and leading young players to baseball's Promised Land. He came across as competitive, intense, brainy, quirky, resourceful, hard-working and prepared.

That preparedness showed when he punctuated his inspiring opening remarks by citing a moment that has come to symbolize where the Phillies once were and where they haven't been in a long time.

"Bring that effing trophy back to John Middleton," a fired-up Kapler, wearing a fresh, new, red Phillies cap, said of his goals.

Middleton, the team's controlling owner and the man who pushed to bring change and outside perspectives like Kapler's to the Phillies over the last 2½ years, sat in the front row as his new manager spoke. He had to have been impressed that Kapler took the time to research a famous moment that occurred eight autumns ago on the night the Phillies failed to repeat as World Series champions. In the losing clubhouse at Yankee Stadium that night in 2009, Middleton approached Ryan Howard and said, "Ryan, I want my (bleeping) trophy back." The Phillies haven't been back to the World Series since and haven't had a winning season in six years. Now, it's Kapler's job to try to get the Phillies where they once were. It won't happen overnight — this team is still in a rebuild, after all — but Kapler is ready for the challenge and believes the first step in getting that bleeping trophy back is playing in the mold of the man who played second base on that 2008 World Series championship team.

"I was lucky enough to get to know Chase Utley in Los Angeles and I saw him prepare in the clubhouse," said Kapler, who most recently served as the Dodgers' director of player development. "It was unbelievable how much intensity he prepared for the game with, and during the game how much effort he put in. He led by example. And that’s how we’re going to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies going forward.

"We’re going to play with the same level of intensity that Chase played with. We’re going to make razor-sharp turns around the bases. When the ball enters the hitting zone, we’re going to be in powerful and athletic positions. Before the game begins, we’re going to prepare, prepare, prepare so that we've thought out everything and make strong decisions. We’re going to hunt for value at the margins. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned to find our competitive advantages. We’re going to think traditionally and we’re going to think progressively. We will care deeply about winning and we will be ultra-competitive."

Kapler succeeds Pete Mackanin, who was moved to a front-office advisory role at the end of the 2017 season. A fitness and nutrition aficionado with a physique that attests to that, Kapler is also deeply committed to the use of analytics in constructing rosters, lineups and running games. His interest and literacy in analytics mirrors that of the front office and made him a natural candidate.

"As we were reaching the end of the [interview] process, it became very clear there was one person who separated himself and was the right man to lead the Phillies into the future," general manager Matt Klentak said.

"Gabe Kapler is incredibly prepared. If he brings the same level of preparation and grit to the Phillies that he brought to the field as a player, our fans are going to love this guy.

"He has a unique ability to connect with people and I think that bodes very well for our young roster. He's a progressive thinker. Look at the teams (Indians, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros) that competed in the last two World Series. These are among the most progressive organizations in baseball. That's where the Phillies need to head and Gabe Kapler is going to be a huge asset to us as we try to progress to the future."

Kapler played 12 seasons in the majors and won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004. He has just one year of managing experience in the minor leagues, but that was not seen as a detriment by management.

"At some point, everybody has no experience," said Middleton, the 62-year-old former wrestling star who looks like he could still administer a half-nelson with ease.

Like Klentak, Middleton likes Kapler's commitment to thinking outside the box from everything from nutrition to analytics to communicating with players. (Kapler mentioned that some players respond best to text messages.)

And there's one other thing Middleton likes about his new skipper.

"I’m a reasonably intense guy, I’ve been told, so I think we connected literally on a visceral level," Middleton said.

There is still work to do for these Phillies. It will be a busy offseason as Klentak is expected to shop both of his middle infielders (Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez) for trades. He also needs to add a couple of starting pitchers. But the offseason's first order of business is complete. Gabe Kapler is on board. The next task is building a coaching staff. Triple A manager Dusty Wathan, a runner-up for the manager's job (see story), could be on the staff. Rick Kranitz, the assistant pitching coach in 2017, could move into the head role.

"I believe in building diversity," Kapler said. "I don't want seven people in the dugout who think just like me. I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience and I have a tremendous amount of value for someone who thinks more progressively. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff."

Once worried, Pat Neshek now feels 'great' as he targets return

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Once worried, Pat Neshek now feels 'great' as he targets return

When Pat Neshek went on the disabled list with soreness in the back of his right shoulder during the first week of the season, he was legitimately worried about his condition and concerned that the problem could be serious.

A month of rest, rehab and one of those magic injections of anti-inflammatory medication has erased the worry from Neshek’s mind.

“I feel great,” the 37-year-old reliever said before heading out to the field for a spirited game of catch Thursday. “It’s amazing.”

Neshek, who signed a two-year, $16.25 million contract with the Phillies in December, is set to ramp-up his recovery. He said he would throw a bullpen session on Friday. He is expected to head to Clearwater sometime next week to continue his rehab and is targeting the third week of May as a potential return to big-league action. The Phillies play in Baltimore and St. Louis that week.

Neshek spent four months with the Phillies last season before being traded to Colorado. He was brilliant in his time with the Phils. He pitched 40 1/3 innings and allowed just 28 hits and five runs while striking out 45 and walking five.

Even without Neshek, the bullpen has been an early-season strength for the Phillies. It entered Thursday ranked eighth in the majors in ERA (3.22) and opponents batting average .212.

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

Arrieta exudes leadership, veteran savvy in pacing another Phillies’ win

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Jake Arrieta prides himself on being a leader to this young Phillies’ pitching staff.

“More than anything, you want to lead by example,” he said. “Part of the mentorship and trying to help these guys progress is exactly that – going out there, having a plan, being prepared and executing. You can talk to guys until you’re blue in the face, but until you can go out there and put up results and show these guys that what you do in between starts really pays dividends, then guys really start to buy in.

“Actions speak louder than words. Any time you can put into motion what you’re trying to emphasize to these guys plays a huge role in their development. I don’t intend to be a preacher, but there’s a lot of things that I regard highly as a starting pitcher and I’m trying to emphasize to these guys and they’re grasping it and running with it.”

Arrieta provided a great example in how to grind when you don’t have your best stuff and how to minimize damage in tight situations in helping lead the Phillies to a 5-3 win over Arizona on Wednesday night (see first take).

Aaron Altherr’s three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning against Zack Greinke was the big blow for the Phillies, but also important was the way Arrieta kept everything together in the top of the fourth inning. A leadoff error, a single and two Arrieta walks pushed an Arizona run home and the bases were still loaded with no outs.

The 32-year-old former NL Cy Young winner heard a few boos – “Who likes a bases-loaded walk?” he said. “I would have booed, too.” – but he responded by getting two ground balls, one a neatly started double play by Maikel Franco, to get out of the inning and limit the damage.

“Tonight was one of those games where a young starting pitcher could give up six or seven runs,” Arrieta said. “That’s just kind of how it goes. Bases loaded no outs. A double in the gap, a walk, things escalate and before you know it you’re out of the game in the fifth. So being able to slow it down, take a deep breath, collect yourself, and then get focused on executing a pitch is really what I try and emphasize to all of these guys and if you’re able to do that more times than not you’ll be able to come out ahead.”

Arrieta battled his way through seven innings for his third straight quality start and the Phillies' 12th in 23 games as a staff. Only one of the three runs he allowed was earned as he pitched over errors by Franco, J.P. Crawford and Andrew Knapp.

“We have to defend the baseball better, everybody knows it,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

Arrieta picked up the defenders and Altherr picked up everybody when he clubbed a 2-1 slider into the shrubs in center field for a three-run homer. Greinke doubled up with his slider. Altherr was looking for it and exploded on it.

Why was he looking for that pitch?

“I’d rather not say,” Altherr said with a laugh. “I’ll keep my thoughts to myself on that one.”

Makes sense. Altherr will see Greinke again someday. In the meantime, the Phils are 15-8 and they will look to take the rubber match of the series on Thursday afternoon.