Rob Thomson

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler shakes off boos in home-opening win

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler shakes off boos in home-opening win

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It’s foolish to call the sixth game of a manager’s career a “must-win,” but that’s what it felt like Thursday for Gabe Kapler. He was ripped and ridiculed for his decisions during the Phillies’ 1-4 season-opening road trip and when the club came home to Citizens Bank Park on Thursday … well, it wasn’t exactly Welcome Wagon.

Kapler was booed during introductions and again – quite lustily — when he made a key pitching change with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a runner on base and his team up by three runs on the Miami Marlins. Out went Nick Pivetta and in came Adam Morgan to face slugger Justin Bour. The lefty-on-lefty matchup paid dividends as Morgan struck out Bour on three pitches. It was the pivotal moment in Kapler’s must-win, 5-0 victory over the Marlins and it didn’t go unnoticed in the dugout (see first take). As Morgan’s third-strike breaking ball branded catcher Jorge Alfaro’s mitt, bench coach Rob Thomson patted the beleaguered manager on the back.

“It’s about support,” said Thomson, in his first season with the Phillies after working under Joe Torre and Joe Girardi with the New York Yankees.

“We’re all a team here and we all have his back. I’ve been booed before. It’s part of the gig. I was happy for him, for Morgan and the team.”

Kapler did not seem stung by the boos.

“I’m glad to wear them if every day the fans are cheering for our players,” he said. “I’ll take that, 100 percent.”

There were a few things for the sellout crowd to cheer about as the Phils won their first home opener since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Pivetta pitched 5 2/3 innings of four-hit, walk-free ball. He featured a power slider and struck out nine. Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris teamed on 3 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. The Phils stole four bases, Odubel Herrera had a big hit and Maikel Franco had a big day with three hits – half of the team’s total. Franco had a two-run single and a two-run homer (see story).

The Marlins were a compliant opponent. Their pitchers issued nine walks and the Phils turned three of them into runs.

Pivetta had no qualms with Kapler’s decision to remove him at 97 pitches.

“It’s the right call,” he said. “Adam is a tremendous guy to come out of the bullpen, he’s a lefty and Bour’s a good hitter.”

The crowd cheered Pivetta as he walked off the mound. Moments later, it booed Kapler as he handed Morgan the ball and returned to the dugout. It will take a few more victories to win over the Philadelphia fans.

Kapler is up for the challenge.

“I’m going to work my ass off for these fans,” he said. “I’m going to give them everything I have. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do: Work my tail off. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that I am in this with them. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that my process is strong.”

Brushbacks, hit batsmen, ejections in Phils' spring training game

Brushbacks, hit batsmen, ejections in Phils' spring training game

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies bring extra pitchers over from the minor-league complex for bullpen depth every game in spring training. For the pitchers, it’s a nice little recognition of a job well done. They often don’t get in the game, but they get to put on a big-league uniform and put a day’s worth of big-league meal money in their pocket.
 
Parker Frazier got even more than that on Thursday. He not only got in the game. He got ejected.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a spring training game,” Frazier said with a laugh afterward. “I’ll take the first for something.”

Home plate umpire Tom Hallion gave Frazier the boot for hitting Detroit’s Derek Hill with a pitch in the eighth inning of a 6-2 loss. Frazier hit Hill with an off-speed pitch, so it clearly was not intentional. But Hallion had already issued warnings to both benches after Zach Eflin had hit Jose Iglesias and Detroit’s Matthew Boyd came in close twice against Odubel Herrera. In addition to Frazier, Hallion also ejected Phillies reliever Pedro Beato for hitting a batter in the ninth. Manager Gabe Kapler and bench coach Rob Thomson were ejected with Frazier and Beato, respectively.

It made for a crazy scene, especially in a spring training game.

Herrera believed that Boyd intentionally threw at him as retaliation for Iglesias getting hit. Boyd at first threw over Herrera’s head as Herrera tried to call timeout. He then came inside on Herrera. Herrera sidestepped the pitch and took first with a walk.

“He can’t hit me,” a defiant Herrera said afterward. “I’m too quick.”

Frazier definitely wasn’t trying to hit Hill, not with a slider.

“It was a slider that didn’t slide,” he joked.

Frazier is the 29-year-old son of former big-league pitcher George Frazier. He’s a career minor leaguer who has been in pro ball since 2007 and pitched in the Rockies, Reds, White Sox, A’s and Diamondbacks organizations. He pitched the last three seasons in independent ball and is in Phillies camp for the first time.

Frazier’s fiancee and future in-laws were in from Oklahoma for the game. They expected to see him pitch at the minor-league complex, but instead got to see him experience an eventful day in big-league camp.

After being ejected, Frazier returned to the clubhouse. A text from his fiancee awaited him.

“They wanted to know what happened,” he said. “I told them accidental hit pitch.”

Kapler wouldn't discuss what he said to Hallion after Frazier's ejection. He said he would respect the umpire's decision because those are the rules.

But Kapler made it clear that he didn’t believe his pitchers were trying to hit anyone.

“We have a minor leaguer in the game and he’s just trying to make a good impression,” Kapler said. “He threw a slider that backed up and hit somebody. Beato is also trying to make a club and make a good impression. There’s no reason to not throw strikes. Balls will get away. It’s part of the game.”

Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

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Yankees GM calls Phillies' Rob Thomson one of the best in business

CLEARWATER, Fla. – According to New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, “the Phillies got one of the best,” when they hired Rob Thomson as bench coach.

“It was tough to see him leave,” Cashman said. “He is a great coach, an exceptional baseball man. His knowledge of the game is off the charts.

“Gabe Kapler has someone at his side that he can trust to have everything lined up properly all the time and that will free up Gabe Kapler to focus on whatever he wants to focus on at the given time. Rob Thomson will keep the rudder steady every step of the way."

Thomson, 54, spent 28 years in the Yankees organization, most recently as Joe Girardi’s bench coach. He was one of five people (along with Eric Wedge, Hensley Muelens and Carlos Beltran) to interview to become Girardi’s successor during the offseason (see story.) Aaron Boone got the job.

Timing worked in the Phillies’ favor in hiring Thomson. There was a lag between when Thomson found out he would not be the Yankees’ manager and Boone’s hiring. The Phillies offered him their bench coach job and he took it.

“He would have been a candidate to return here, without question,” Cashman said. “It would have been the final call of Aaron Boone, but I would have recommended him highly to Aaron Boone. I gave (Phillies GM) Matt Klentak the highest recommendation.”

Thomson described himself as a good self-evaluator. He’s not sure he’d be cut out to manage every team, but he believed he’d have been a good fit for the Yankees job. He knew that organization, its operation and its players well.

“I understand that it’s part of the business,” Thomson said. “Brian and his staff, who are very smart people, had a certain person in mind and it wasn’t me. So you have to move on and refocus.”

Kapler did extensive research on Thomson and said he often heard that Thomson was “the best in the business at planning and running a spring training camp.”

Cashman concurred.

“Gabe Kapler has as good a right-hand man as you can find,” he said.

One plugged-in baseball observer described Thomson as similar to the late John Vukovich – a loyal-to-his-manager baseball taskmaster – only with a little less volume in his voice.

“He’s tough,” Cashman said. “He will be brutally honest. He’ll say what a player needs to hear, not necessarily what a player wants to hear. And he’ll always relate well to players because he always has their best interest at heart.

“The Phillies got one of the best.”