Camp Kapler is a-rockin' with new vibes, new concepts

Camp Kapler is a-rockin' with new vibes, new concepts

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It's still baseball here at Camp Kap. Hit the ball, catch the ball, get the (bleeping) job done, as Lee Elia once said. But under Gabe Kapler, things are just a little bit different.
The sound of music fills the air.
And the men in blue have already arrived.
Just before Phillies pitchers and catchers began their third workout of the spring Friday morning, three umpires, in full gear, emerged from the locker room at Spectrum Field and made the walk over to the Carpenter Complex.
Grapefruit League games don't start for another week, but umpires were on hand to call balls and strikes during pitcher bullpen workouts.
It was a first.
But then again, there will be a lot of firsts under Kapler, the high-energy, uber-positive, 42-year-old new-schooler hired as Phillies skipper in October.
"We're trying to find value at the margins," Kapler said. "How can we find the last little detail that gets us a tiny bit better and gives us one step forward?"
Friday's detail was umpires and batter's boxes painted in the bullpen.
"We're trying to create more game-like conditions," Kapler said.
The manager praised Craig Driver, the team's new bullpen catcher/receiving coach, for suggesting how "powerful" it would be to have umpires provide feedback to catchers on their ability to frame and keep pitches in the strike zone. And, of course, it doesn't hurt the pitchers to get some early feedback.
"I didn't know if I would like it at first, but I did," Jerad Eickhoff said after the workout.
He paused.
"Even though the guy squeezed me a couple of times," he deadpanned.
Kapler has a democratic approach. Pitchers could have said no to having an umpire. None did.
"It was a first for me," Aaron Nola said. "You've got the umpire and the white lines. They told us about it this morning. Everybody liked it."
The umpires were local professionals hired by the club. They will be back again.
While pitchers went through their workouts, music played on the speakers at Carpenter Complex. It is not unusual to have music playing during a workout. It happens nightly during batting practice in every Major League stadium. The Phillies have played music during spring training workouts in other years. Kapler has brought it to a new level. Players have complete input in what they want to hear. Classic rock. Some country. Latin. Pop.

"I want them to be inspired," Kapler said. 

The music is always on in the clubhouse and even in the hallways around the clubhouse.
"It makes every space not boring," said Wes Helms, the former Phillie who is back with the club as a coach at Triple A Lehigh Valley.
Helms played with the Phillies in 2007. He spent four seasons in Atlanta, where Braves manager Bobby Cox famously would not allow music in the clubhouse. Too many different guys with too many different tastes equaled too many problems, Cox believed. He required music-loving players to wear headphones. Cox won 14 division titles, a World Series and is in the Hall of Fame so it's difficult to argue with his methods. 
"The game has changed, the personality of players has changed," Helms said. "As a staff, we have to relate to them on their level so we can get more out of them on the field. I like it. It livens up the atmosphere."
That's Kapler's plan. Create a vibe that makes everyone want to move. Create a work environment that is fun.
"Oh, gosh," Kapler said. "This is a really passionate topic for me. I believe strongly that mood is enhanced by music. One of the ways we decide on the music is we ask all our players: 'What do you like to listen to? What makes you feel strong during your workouts?' We ask them after the workouts. 'Hey, how was the music today? More volume? Less volume? Did you hear something that you liked?'

"When we're surrounded by music, we feel good. We smile more. When we smile more, we're more relaxed at the plate. There is science behind this. It's not a theory. It's been studied. Workplaces are happier and they're more inspired when music is playing."
Kapler's passion for music is a family thing. His dad, Michael, is a piano teacher and classical musician.
"I grew up with music in my house all the time," he said. "And, if you ever come into my office, there will be music playing. In my home, I have music playing all the time. Mostly, because it makes me feel strong.
"If you come into my office, you might hear some John Lee Hooker or, early in the morning, some Norah Jones as I drink coffee. It's eclectic."
Umpires in the bullpen. The sound of music all over the facility. If it helps the Phillies have one more efficient workout here at Camp Kap, then it's all worth it.

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Despite having just 12 plate appearances coming into Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Baltimore Orioles, Odubel Herrera sure looked locked-in.

He singled, doubled and homered on his way to a four-RBI day in the Phillies’ 11-4 win.

Opening day is Thursday.

“I’m ready,” Herrera said. “I want to start the year hot. I want to get going quickly. It’s important to the team and it’s important to me.”

Herrera missed significant time early in camp, first with a hamstring injury then a flu bug that visited a number of players this spring.

Herrera offered up Sunday’s performance at the plate as proof that he didn’t just sit around the athletic trainer’s room for three weeks before playing in his first Grapefruit League game March 16.

He worked in the batting cage, seeing pitches and fine-tuning his swing.

He worked in the weight room.

He also did some between-the-ears work.

While his mates were on the field, he spent some time in the video room with Geoff Miller, the team’s mental skills coach.

“We did exercises where I could visualize the game and kind of not lose time, as if I was still playing,” Herrera said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator.

According to Herrera, Miller cued up videos of some of Herrera’s stellar performances last season.

“Maybe we’d watch a really good at-bat that I had in a game,” Herrera said. “He’d ask me to go through the at-bat. ‘What were you thinking in the at-bat? What was your approach? Try to visualize yourself in that moment again. How can you repeat what you did there because you were successful?’ Little tactics to build confidence.”

Herrera, 27, is one of the Phillies’ most talented players. He made the NL All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year. In addition to being talented, however, Herrera is also inconsistent. Last season was a case in point. He hit .361 with a .989 OPS in his first 40 games. Over the final two months of the season, he hit just .189 with a .530 OPS and lost playing time to Roman Quinn.

Herrera’s poor finish last season earned him a mandate from general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler: Get into better physical shape. Herrera reported to camp down 20 pounds in February. The bosses also wanted to see Herrera become more focused mentally. Herrera said he’s embracing the mental side of the game more now.

“I feel like I need to take advantage of everything that can help me or the team,” he said.

Kapler has seen improved focus in Herrera’s behind-the-scenes work this spring — and on the field Sunday.

“It’s really interesting how his performance coincides with his engagement so strongly,” Kapler said. “When he’s locked in from every angle, he just plays great baseball. He looks like one of the best players on the field all the time and I think that’s what is happening right now for him.

“We want to maintain this level of focus. It’s wonderful to do it in spring training. Our expectation is that he continues to maintain that focus and concentration and that high level of play throughout the season.”

If Herrera needs a reason to be motivated to maintain his sharp mental focus, there is one getting at-bats at the minor-league complex. Quinn will open the season on the disabled list, but he won’t be out long. There is no landing spot in left or right field for Herrera. Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper are going to play. If Herrera wants to stay in the lineup, he has to lock down the center field job with more performances like Sunday’s.

We’ll begin finding out if he can do that Thursday.

“I feel like this will be a really good year for me and the Phillies and hopefully we can make something special happen,” Herrera said.

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Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

Rhys Hoskins is still sore; Phillies remain confident he will be ready for opening day

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even after backing off a tentative plan of playing Rhys Hoskins on Sunday, the Phillies remain optimistic that he will be ready to play in Thursday’s season opener.

“The game plan is for him to play [Monday] and be ready for opening day,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We feel confident in that.”

Hoskins, the team’s first baseman and cleanup hitter, has not played since last Sunday when he hurt his left shoulder taking an awkward swing. An MRI showed no structural damage and Hoskins has continued to do drills. The Phils had hoped to play Hoskins on Sunday, but he was held out of the game against Baltimore. He was able to take batting practice.

“There’s been steady improvement but there’s still a little bit of soreness,” Kapler said. “Rhys is very important to us and our season and we’re always going to lean toward the side of caution, expecially this close to opening day. We wanted to give him some extra time to improve.”

Hoskins said much of the same: There’s still a little soreness, he’s improving and he’ll be ready for opening day. He said he was confident that he would play in the team’s final Grapefruit League game on Monday afternoon against Tampa Bay in Clearwater.

The Phillies’ lineup Sunday reflected some concern for Hoskins. Maikel Franco moved over from third base and started at first for the second time in three games. He is essentially the team’s backup first baseman. Scott Kingery started at third base. If Hoskins were to miss any time, this would be how the Phillies would cover him. At the moment, however, the team is confident that Hoskins will not miss any time.

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