NEW YORK — Matt Klentak believed in Gabe Kapler when he hired him as Phillies manager in the fall. He believed in him during the quiet winter months and throughout the "Be Bold" days of spring training.
A few bad days in Atlanta at the start of the season isn’t about to change Klentak’s confidence in the most significant hire of his tenure as Phillies general manager.
“When you hire a rookie manager, when you hire any manager, but especially a rookie manager, we know there is going to be a learning curve,” Klentak said Tuesday. “We also know that the first few games of the season are going to be the most heavily scrutinized games of the season because there is nothing else to look at. If you had a tough three-game stretch in the middle of July but you've got three or four months’ worth of games to back it up, any particular move or decision is not quite as alarming.
“We unfortunately have the combination of a rookie manager and a tough first three games, then an off day, then a rainout, with nothing else to talk about. And that's why we are where we are. But I think Kap is going to be absolutely fine with managing the bullpen.”
Kapler’s handling of the bullpen came into question when he quick-hooked Aaron Nola with a 5-0 lead on opening day. That turned into a 8-5 loss. Two days later, Kapler waved a cold reliever into the game after a miscommunication between the dugout and the bullpen.
Klentak addressed both situations.
“I don’t think it really does any good trying to explain it away,” he said of the communication breakdown during Saturday night’s 15-2 loss. “It happened. The thing that I’m pleased about is that Kap took responsibility for it right after the game. It sucked, but we’ve got to move on.”
Klentak defended his manager’s decision to lift Nola in the sixth inning at 68 pitches on opening day.
“We decided to start the season with four starters and a ninth bullpen piece,” Klentak said. “What that allowed us, we thought, in the first three games was the ability to match up and protect our starters and line them up to pitch on regular rest the next time through. From that perspective, the way Kap managed the game was the way we had drawn it up. It didn’t work, and that’s obvious. We now are sort of dealing with the fallout from that.
“I understood what he was doing and why he was doing it. We know that style of bullpen management is not going to continue for 162 games. It can’t. We can’t carry a ninth bullpen piece all year. The starters, naturally, will become more stretched out. The bullpen will settle into some roles. We never had any desire to do that all year long. That was that way we thought was the best game plan for the Atlanta series, and it didn’t work.”
On Tuesday, Kapler said the Atlanta series was a learning experience (see story). Klentak is only looking forward.
“Three games does not make a season,” he said. “Three games, as challenging as they may have been, are not going to undo all of the positives that have occurred over the last six months, both on and off the field.
"In spring training, we saw a lot of those positives, players and energy level and environment and many other things. And there is nothing that is going to happen in three games that is going to change that. And I think we're fortunate to have leadership in the organization above my pay grade that fully recognizes that as well.”