After a winter of challenges, Gabe Kapler wants to focus on the players

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After a winter of challenges, Gabe Kapler wants to focus on the players

CLEARWATER, Fla. — A controversy stemming from his handling of a situation during his time as an official with the Los Angeles Dodgers put Gabe Kapler under the heat lamps recently.

But on the first day of his second season as Phillies manager Wednesday, Kapler put all the attention on his players.

“I addressed that situation publicly in detail,” he said, referring to the 1,300-word response he authored after a Washington Post story questioned how he handled the reporting of an alleged assault in 2015. “This is a camp where I really want the attention and the focus to be on our players. So that's not a question I'm going to be addressing.”

Kapler did concede that the offseason was a challenge.

Three months before the Post report, he lost his home in the wildfires around Malibu, California.

“There is no question that there were some challenges this offseason,” he said. “The way I dealt with those challenges was to focus my attention on others. I think those lessons are applicable to us as a team. When you want to achieve something that matters, you can’t do it on your own, you need to lean on others for support and you need to support those leaning on you. I think that’s the way I approached this offseason, that’s the way I’m going to approach spring training and that’s how we will approach the season.”

Kapler was pressed as to whether the situation involving the alleged 2015 assault would cause him a credibility issue in the clubhouse he now oversees.

“We spent a lot of time this past offseason communicating,” he said. “I communicated frequently with our players. I communicated frequently with our staff. We put a lot of processes and practices into play to enhance that communication and I think the way to address that best is through the actions that are coming up. I think that we’re going to be able to see that the relationships in the clubhouse are intact and strong.”

But there will be changes in the clubhouse.

Kapler was asked if there was one thing he would change in Year 2 and he did not hesitate with his answer.

“We're going to have some boundaries in the clubhouse that are a little bit stronger,” he said. “Last year, I stressed that we wanted players to be able to be themselves and to be celebrated for who they were, and we're going to continue to stress that. At the same time, we're going to implement systems and processes and boundaries that make it clear that we are here to work every single day. Spring training is going to be the jumping-off point for that. Everything we do is going to have a higher level of intensity. Our attention to detail is going to be stronger. And there are going to be some boundaries put into place. Not that I'm going to implement a set of rules different from what we had last year, but I will say that we are going to raise the bar for the behavior across the board.”

Kapler declined to give examples of where he will run a tighter ship.

“There's nothing specific that I can point to,” he said. “I can just tell you that it's an area of emphasis for us.”

Tighter ship. More emphasis on detail. These are understandable modifications considering what happened last season. The Phils were in first place, 15 games over .500, in early August. They lost 33 of their final 49 games and finished with their sixth straight losing season. In September, general manager Matt Klentak used the word “miserable” to describe the final weeks of the season.

Kapler has moved on.

“We’re in spring training 2019,” he said. “I’m not going to say I don’t remember how difficult the end of 2018 was. We’re just going to use it as motivation every single day. Not getting the job done, not completing the job, is incredible fuel to have better practices, to be more focused on the small details of the work that we do in spring training.”

Kapler has more to work with in 2019. The Rhys Hoskins Outfield Experiment is over. He is back in his comfort zone at first base. Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, David Robertson and J.T. Realmuto — all proven talents — have been added and more could come in the form of a Manny Machado, a Bryce Harper, a Mike Moustakas, a Dallas Keuchel or a Craig Kimbrel. Yes, the Phillies are in on everybody in their quest to break a seven-year postseason drought.

With an improved roster comes heightened expectations and with heightened expectations comes more pressure on the manager.

Winning early and often will keep the focus where he wants it — on the players and not on him.

“I think it’s important to continue to shine the light on the players that are here in camp,” Kapler said. “We have an improved roster across the board. I think it’s important that we get off to a good start because that’s what’s good for the Philadelphia Phillies. My focus, my attention, will always be on winning every night, putting our team in the best position to do so, and then coming back to do it all over again the next day.”

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Strange postgame vibe after an inexcusably ugly Phillies loss

Strange postgame vibe after an inexcusably ugly Phillies loss

Where does one begin after a night like this?

With the offense that loaded the bases twice in the first three innings against Clayton Kershaw and stranded all six runners?

With an infield that forgot how many outs there were in an almost comically ugly fourth inning?

With the bullpen currently filled with mostly fringe or inexperienced major-league relievers that turned a six-run game into a 13-run game and stood no chance against the Dodgers' potent lineup?

With the $330 million outfielder who has been outplayed by more than a few visiting superstars at Citizens Bank Park this season?

This 16-2 loss, this was the kind of game that left the manager, the players, the fans and the reporters with more questions than answers.

"It's certainly not encouraging," Gabe Kapler said when asked about the embarrassing performance.

The manager didn't do much expanding. He didn't need to. The fact is the 2019 Dodgers are worlds better than the 2019 Phillies. L.A.'s rotation goes five, six, seven deep. Their lineup can beat you with power, with plate selection, with contact or with small ball like they used in the fourth inning, when they perfectly executed a safety squeeze and a double-steal of second and home.

Facing Kershaw, you're not going into the game with huge expectations. The Phillies were +160 underdogs, one of the biggest underdog lines you will see for a baseball team playing at home. But this was still pathetic. Inexcusable. Baffling. Concerning.

Why is it that opposing offenses can come into this park and make it look small? Why is it that opposing hitters can take such advantage of these juiced baseballs but the Phillies cannot? Cody Bellinger had as many home runs in a three-inning span Monday as Harper has in his last 17 home games.

The Phillies have been outscored 34-8 by the Dodgers, the team every other club in the National League knows it probably must get through to make it to the World Series. What is the Phillies' goal at this point? Is it to chase the wild-card? Is it to make it to a one-game playoff, cross their fingers and call it a job well done?

That wasn't the goal in the spring, when this team had 90-plus win aspirations and looked like it might feature five All-Stars.

This is why the game isn't played on paper, they say.

"I think after yesterday's game everybody's real positive and after a game like tonight you feel like you got kicked in the teeth," said Jay Bruce, who stranded six runners. "You get to start over each day and you get to start a game at 0-0 and have an opportunity to win. We have to play better, for sure. But as poorly as we've played, we're still right there in the wild-card hunt and you never know what's going to happen in the division so we just need to play like we can and play more consistent baseball and see what happens. ... A night like tonight is tough but we get to come back tomorrow and do it again."

There weren't many players in the clubhouse when it opened. Harper was sitting right there waiting, like he always does, no matter the game's outcome. He deserves credit for that, even if some of his answers rang hollow.

Zach Eflin, who has allowed 22 runs in his last 20 innings, actually took some positives from his start.

"I really felt like I probably gave up only two hard-ish hit balls that (fourth) inning," he said. "But at the end of the day, I felt like I got better today. I thought me and J.T. (Realmuto) did a good job of mixing pitches and really getting my curveball and changeup over. So although the box score doesn't really look too good, I feel like I took a lot of positives from today.

"We're all calm. There's no need to panic. We know how good we're going to be and it's just going to take that one time, that one game that everything clicks and then it's going to be a fun rest of the year."

They're fine. Everything is fine. The season isn't deteriorating two weeks before the trade deadline.

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Phillies embarrassed by Dodgers and have 2 of the ugliest innings you'll ever see

Phillies embarrassed by Dodgers and have 2 of the ugliest innings you'll ever see


What a completely humiliating loss for the Phillies.

It wasn't just that they were blown out, 16-2, by the visiting Dodgers. It was the way it unfolded and the way it sounded.

The Dodgers, with so many of their fans chanting and cheering throughout the night, scored six runs in the Phillies' ugliest inning of the season, the top of the fourth Monday. 

They went single, RBI double, groundout, RBI single, walk, RBI single, safety squeeze RBI single, sacrifice, RBI single, double steal of 2nd and home.

The Dodgers' catcher, Austin Barnes, laid down the successful squeeze. Cesar Hernandez was shifted all the way toward the second base bag and had no chance to scamper to first in time to receive the throw from Zach Eflin. A few batters later, it was again the catcher Barnes who stole home.

And that wasn't even the worst look of the inning. When Eflin struck out Alex Verdugo for the third out, the Phillies were so out of it that the entire infield appeared to not know it was the third out. Realmuto trickled the ball back to the pitcher, Eflin and his fielders stood around, and then after a few seconds, all realized in unison the inning was over and walked toward the dugout. 

The boos just rained down.

You can't blame Phillies fans at this point. They've been watching bad baseball for six weeks. An offense that can't consistently pick up the big hit, a rotation that can't get six innings deep nearly enough, a bullpen that can't protect leads.

It all bubbled to the surface Monday in an ugly loss, the kind of loss one would hope leads to a team meeting or a tough conversation or something that shows these coaches and players are taking the mounting losses personally.

And it got even worse

The Dodgers later added four homers, two by Cody Bellinger. Bellinger had as many home runs at CBP Monday as Bryce Harper has in his last 17 home games.

And still, it got worse. In the eighth inning, Yacksel Rios was ejected for hitting Justin Turner after Verdugo's homer, Edgar Garcia couldn't get a third out, the Dodgers scored five more runs and the Phillies were forced to insert Roman Quinn to pitch ... with the bases loaded. Quinn did get the inning-ending flyout before allowing two more runs in the ninth.

The Phillies are 48-46. Tomorrow night is Vince Velasquez against Walker Buehler.

Missed opportunities

The Phillies loaded the bases in the first and third innings against Clayton Kershaw and stranded all six runners. Jay Bruce was the main culprit, flying out to end the first and striking out on three pitches with one out and the sacks full in the third.

The Phillies reached base twice via error against Kershaw in the third inning. When you're facing a Hall of Fame pitcher, you have to cash in when you get the chance. The Phillies couldn't. You almost knew before the Dodgers even crossed the plate that this would be costly.

Segura dinged?

Jean Segura was limping in the field in the top of the ninth and again after his groundout in the bottom of the ninth. Manager Gabe Kapler said after the game that Segura was being examined but had no further update. We'll know more Tuesday.

Up next

The Phillies again miss NL All-Star starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, but that just means they get the rest of the Dodgers' strong rotation.

Tuesday night at 7:05 — Vince Velasquez (2-5, 4.63) vs. Walker Buehler (8-1, 3.46)

Wednesday night at 7:05 — Nick Pivetta (4-4, 5.81) vs. Kenta Maeda (7-6, 3.82)

Thursday afternoon at 12:35 — Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.63) vs. Ross Stripling (4-3, 3.65)

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