ATLANTA — The Phillies opened their 136th season, and the Gabe Kapler era, with a demoralizing 8-5 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on Thursday.
The Phillies took a 5-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning, but could not hold it after Kapler pulled cruising starter Aaron Nola after 68 pitches.
The Braves tied the game with three runs in the bottom of the eighth and won it on a three-run homer by Nick Markakis with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The home run came against Hector Neris.
Nola had given up just three hits when Kapler lifted him after 5 1/3 innings with a runner on second base. The rookie manager asked his bullpen to get 11 outs, but the unit could not do it without surrendering the lead and ultimately losing the game.
The bullpen was charged with seven of Atlanta’s eight runs.
Hoby Milner gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the sixth and Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos combined to allow three in the eighth as the Braves tied the game. Ozzie Albies stroked a leadoff homer off Morgan in the eighth. Morgan walked Freeman and the Atlanta slugger came around to score on a passed ball/error combination by catcher Andrew Knapp.
The Braves tied the game on a base hit to center by Preston Tucker against Ramos. It was curious that veteran Pat Neshek, who signed a two-year contract with the club in December, was not in the game in the eighth inning. The Phillies used five relievers in the game and Neshek never got in (more on that here).
The Phillies took an early lead on Atlanta starter Julio Teheran when Rhys Hoskins’ first swing of the season produced an opposite-field RBI double in the first inning.
The Phils pushed their lead to 5-0 in the top of the sixth inning on a leadoff solo homer by Cesar Hernandez, a bases-loaded walk by Maikel Franco and a two-run single by Knapp.
At 24 years and 298 days, Nola became the youngest Phillies opening day starter since Dennis Bennett in 1964.
Nola earned the start with a strong showing last season. His 3.54 ERA ranked 20th among major-league starters.
Odubel Herrera, the Phillies’ best offensive player the last three seasons, did not start and was not happy about that (see story). He did enter the game in the bottom of the eighth for defense as Kapler subbed Hoskins out of the game.
Check back for reaction from the clubhouse.