Phillies

Before hiring Gabe Kapler, Phillies consulted MLB on his role in Nick Francona controversy

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Before hiring Gabe Kapler, Phillies consulted MLB on his role in Nick Francona controversy

New Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was in the news earlier this year when Yahoo! Sports reported that Major League Baseball was investigating whether the Los Angeles Dodgers had discriminated against an employee.

That employee was Nick Francona, son of current Cleveland Indians manager and former Phillies manager Terry Francona. Nick Francona was an assistant director of player development for the Dodgers. Kapler was his boss.

Francona, a Penn graduate and Afghanistan war veteran, had his contract terminated by the Dodgers in 2016. He made charges of discrimination against the Dodgers and Kapler.

The Phillies carefully investigated the matter before hiring Kapler.

"We were aware of the allegations," general manager Matt Klentak said. "It was public. It was on the internet. So we went into this knowing that something was out there, and we had a variety of conversations, I did and other people with the Phillies did, talking with top level executives with the Dodgers, with executives of Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball has asked that we not comment on the details, but we felt comfortable moving forward (with the hiring) and they've asked that we defer any future questions to the league office."

Kapler declined to comment on specifics of the matter.

"I totally understand why you’re asking the questions," he said at Thursday's introductory news conference (more from that here). "Per Major League Baseball, it’s not something we can address specifically. I will say this: I’ve known the Francona family for a long time and have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them, particularly Terry Francona, who was my manager for several years in Boston. I still hold him in the highest regard and think of him as a mentor.

"But as it relates to this specific question and this specific situation, per MLB, it’s not something that we can address."

Nick Francona currently works for the New York Mets.

Klentak has a relationship with Nick Francona. He was an assistant general manager with the Angels when Francona began his career in baseball.

"I was part of the group with the Angels that hired him there four years ago," Klentak said. "I spent a year working with him. I have a ton of respect for Nick Francona as a person, as a colleague, as a military veteran, and I think the important thing is that we don’t have to choose sides in this.

"I think we can be extremely excited and confident in the future of the Phillies and Gabe Kapler's presence on our staff, while at the same time fully respecting and supporting Nick Francona, who is a great kid, and I think that's an important message."

Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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Phillies pitcher Nick Pivetta goes to school on Justin Verlander

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — For a gazillion years, pitchers have been told to keep the ball down. That is still valuable advice, but with more and more hitters looking to launch the ball with an upward swing path these days, power pitchers are striking back with a high fastball above the bat head.

Nick Pivetta has a power fastball and he’s working on this technique. He consciously threw some fastballs above the belt in his two-inning spring debut Friday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

“We're telling all of our pitchers, we're asking them to do some new things,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “And there's going to be some times in spring training games when you get hit a little bit.”

That’s OK. The new-school Phillies want their players to be open to new ideas. Pivetta, who struck out 9.5 batters per nine innings in 26 starts last season, is open learning to ride a high fastball by a hitter looking to launch. He watched on television as Justin Verlander did that for Houston in the postseason last year and he’s watched more video of Verlander and interacted with Phillies coaches about the strategy this spring.

“A key point that they brought to me was how Verlander pitched in the playoffs,” Pivetta said. “I think that’s something I can learn from a lot of the time, how he did it when he came over to Houston.

“It’s part of pitching. You’ve got to be able to command the zone, both the top and bottom. It’s not to say we’re going to only throw up. It’s just something else to work on.”

Pivetta pitched two innings and struck out three in the 2-1 loss to the Blue Jays. He allowed three hits, a walk and two runs in the first inning. One of the hits was a solo homer by Curtis Granderson on a hanging breaking ball.

Kapler was pleased with Pivetta’s performace and his reponse to trying new things.

“He executed his game plan today,” Kapler said. “He executed some pretty nasty sliders at the bottom of the zone. He executed some fastballs at the top of the zone. He missed some bats, which is really encouraging.

“One of the things we’re working on with him is elevating a little bit. He has velocity and strong pitch characteristics to pitch up in the zone. But he also has the ability to pitch down in the zone with his slider and his curveball.

“He kicked ass today. He did everything we asked him to do.”

The Phillies host the Orioles on Saturday. Zach Eflin will be the starting pitcher.

Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

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Lost and found — K-Rod enjoys solid debut with Phillies

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DUNEDIN, Fla. — Francisco Rodriguez navigated the narrow streets of this friendly, little, old-school spring training burg looking for a place to park his Mercedes late Friday morning.

Finally, after asking several people for directions, he found a spot near the grounds crew shed at Dunedin Stadium.

The episode was a bit of a metaphor for Rodriguez’s workday with the Phillies. Back on the mound in a game situation for the first time since last summer, Rodriguez allowed a walk to the first batter he faced and later a single, but stayed composed and left two runners on base in notching a scoreless inning in his first action of the spring in a 2-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I felt kind of lost the first couple of batters,” Rodriguez said. “But once I got a ground ball, I started locating. It had been a while since I was on the mound in a game.”

Rodriguez, 36, is the most decorated player in Phillies camp. He is a six-time All-Star and baseball’s active leader in saves (437) and appearances (948). Released twice last season, he is trying to win a spot in the Phillies’ bullpen as a non-roster invite to camp.

He opened last season as Detroit’s closer, but was released in June after recording a 7.82 ERA in 28 games. The Nationals took a peek at him in the minors a few weeks later and also let him go.

Rodriguez said he was not healthy last season. He said he had issues with his groin and hamstring.

“I couldn’t be 100 percent,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. I should have found a way to get the job done in Detroit and I couldn’t. That’s one of the reasons that I’m in this situation now.”

Rodriguez ranks fourth all time in saves behind Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman and Lee Smith. He does not have the power fastball that once earned him the nickname K-Rod — he topped out at 89 mph Friday — but location, a good changeup and old-fashioned savvy are still strengths. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz was influential in bringing in Rodriguez for a look. The two were together in Milwaukee, where Rodriguez was an All-Star in 2014 and 2015.

“He’s a great reliever,” Kranitz said.

Does he have anything left?

“I believe so, yes,” Kranitz said.

Kranitz went on to say that Rodriguez was a high-character guy who would help the Phillies’ young pitchers.

Rodriguez was asked what pushed him to continue his career and come to camp essentially on a tryout.

“I love the game,” he said. “I don’t think I have to prove anything. I don’t think I went to Walmart and bought 900 appearances and 437 saves. I did that with a lot of pride and hard work. This is the only thing I know how to do, play baseball. God gave me the opportunity to throw a baseball and I’m going to continue to do it.”

The Phillies may go with an eight-man bullpen. That could help Rodriguez’s chances of sticking. But he will have to pitch well.

“I’m looking forward to having a great spring,” he said.