Phillies

Gabe Kapler deserves major props, but there's 1 thing he needs to cut out

Gabe Kapler deserves major props, but there's 1 thing he needs to cut out

As we close out July, the Phillies are in first place, 11 games over .500. They’ve been able to accomplish this with a roster that has its fair share of shortcomings. This was a team that was 30 games under .500 last season and finished in the bottom of their division. They are also the youngest team in baseball and have a first-year manager. 

When you take all of that into account, you have to be pretty pleased if you're a Phillies fan. You also have to give major props to said first-year manager, Gabe Kapler. His detractors will point back to his moves in the first series of the season, his reliance on analytics, use of the bullpen, shifting, brand of coconut oil, etc. Most of which is nonsense. 

Any manager or front office worth a damn incorporates analytics and has been for a very long time. For the most part this season, the shifts have paid off. Were there mistakes made in the opening series in Atlanta? Yes. That was more than 100 games ago. And the bullpen maneuvering is mostly done out of necessity. He has managed with his gut, not just by a printout.   

But the thing that really chafes Phillies fans more than anything is the way Kapler speaks. He’s heavy on nicknames. Any given pre-or- post-game gathering, you will likely hear a “Mikey,” “Ef,” “Noles,” “Stretch.” There will be plenty of confidence preached. Or someone presenting well, coming out of the skipper’s mouth. It’s not your typical baseball-speak. To me, that is all nonsense, window dressing. People didn’t like Charlie Manuel’s southern drawl. They came around real quick when they realized he was the right guy for that group of players.  

It’s what else Kapler says, particularly after games, that is more open to debate or interpretation. No matter how ugly the game, he is Captain Sunshine, Positive Pete. There could be several reasons for this approach. He has a genuinely positive outlook on life, no glass is half-empty. He is deflecting any negative attention away from his players. And on a related note, he takes into account the age of his team and feels the need to be the protective mother hen. All valid reasons. 

But the issue with that approach is, it’s insulting to the fans. If you lose a 3-2 crisply played game, I have no issue with a manager throwing around platitudes and crediting certain players or situations. But when you lose a game 13-2 in hideous fashion, spare us the kudos to the mop-up guy who threw two clean innings. 

There’s a fine line between throwing one of your players under the bus and admitting “we didn’t field, hit or pitch well enough." There’s nothing wrong with that. Nobody’s asking Kapler to be Larry Bowa or Dallas Green. The media and fans, and most importantly his players, are astute enough to know what went down and who did what. 

I believe Kapler has done an excellent job this season. And if this is the biggest gripe, then that’s a good problem. But it is one of the things I hope that he does away with as he gains experience as a manager.

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No more pain for Cesar Hernandez, an edge for Andrew Knapp, more from Phillies' first full-squad workout

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No more pain for Cesar Hernandez, an edge for Andrew Knapp, more from Phillies' first full-squad workout

CLEARWATER, Fla. — When it comes to the Phillies’ pursuit of you-know-who and you-know-who, Cesar Hernandez can’t help but be a little greedy.

“I don’t have a preference,” the veteran second baseman said. “Everyone knows that they’re really, really good players. If it’s one of them, it’s one of them. If we can get both of them, I’ll take both of them.”

The Phillies held their first full-squad workout on the fields at Carpenter Complex on Monday. Off the field, attention being paid to the team’s pursuit of free agents Manny Machado and Bryce Harper continued to climb toward a boiling point. The Phils remain in talks with both players and are eager to get a deal with whoever comes and gets it.

Hernandez, 28, arrived in camp with manager Gabe Kapler’s faith as a leadoff man (see story) and a healthy right foot. He broke the foot on a foul ball last July and played through it.

“I’m not going to lie, it was tough playing with a broken foot,” he said. “It affected me every single way. But I was able to tolerate the pain. I had to because I wanted to help the team and I was able to make it through.”

Hernandez’ play suffered because of the injury. He finished with a .253 batting average, down from .294 the previous season, and his OPS dropped to .718 from .793. He struck out a career-high 155 times. Despite his struggles, he walked a career-high 95 times and maintained a solid .356 on-base percentage.

Hernandez has played with several different shortstops — Freddy Galvis, Scott Kingery, Asdrubal Cabrera — the last two seasons. He is eager play with newcomer Jean Segura and will spend the spring building a bond.

Who's the backup catcher?

Manager Gabe Kapler said Andrew Knapp was “in the driver’s seat,” to be the backup catcher. Veteran newcomer Drew Butera, who signed a minor-league contract earlier this month, will also be in the hunt for the job. Knapp appeared in 53 games behind the plate last season.

Rodriguez hurting

Veteran utility man Sean Rodriguez, in camp on a minor-league deal, did not participate in workouts Monday because of a sore knee. Kapler said Rodriguez was getting the knee checked.

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Inquisitive Phillies catching prospect Deivi Grullon shines early in camp

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Inquisitive Phillies catching prospect Deivi Grullon shines early in camp

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Just before 9 o’clock Monday morning, Deivi Grullon rose from his seat in the Phillies clubhouse, walked over to Jake Arrieta and asked if he had a minute.

Grullon, a young catcher in his first big-league camp, proceeded to pepper the former Cy Young Award winner with questions.

“It was an interesting conversation,” Grullon said through Spanish-language translator Diego Ettedgui later in the day. “I’m trying to learn as much as possible.”

Grullon spoke the word esponja.

Sponge.

It might have taken a little nerve for Grullon to approach Arrieta, but he explained that he has been encouraged to build a bond with pitchers. The day before, Grullon had been in the video room watching tape of Arrieta pitching in a game last season. He was curious about Arrieta’s thought process in attacking right-handed hitters with his sinker and was eager to learn about it, just in case he found himself catching the pitcher this spring. Arrieta was gracious and more than willing to fill up the sponge. During the conversation, Arrieta reached into his locker, grabbed a baseball and showed Grullon several different pitch grips.

The early-morning clubhouse scene proved to be a fitting backdrop to the day because, later on, manager Gabe Kapler raved about what he’d seen from Grullon in the first week of workouts. Kapler had been impressed by Grullon’s raw power — especially to the opposite field — at the plate and his willingness to work hard on framing pitches behind it.

“There had been a little bit of information presented to me that his concentration level waned from time to time,” Kapler said. “I have not seen that. I have actually seen the concentration super high. The work he’s done with (catching instructors) Craig Driver and Bob Stumpo has been really good. They’ve seen improvement in just four or five days.

“This is a guy that from a raw talent perspective, our player development staff has been excited about for a couple of years. He’s kind of stood out so far.”

Grullon, who turned 23 earlier this week, is powerfully built at 5-10 and 235 pounds. He was signed for $575,000 out of the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2012. The Phillies have long liked the power in his bat and in his throwing arm. He had a strong season at Double-A Reading in 2018, hitting .273 with a .825 OPS, 21 homers and 59 RBIs in 326 at-bats.

The Phils rolled the dice and left Grullon unprotected in the Rule 5 draft in December. No team selected him and he is slated to be the No. 1 catcher at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. It will be a good test and if he passes it, the Phillies will likely have to protect him next winter.

In the meantime, Grullon is happy to be in his first big-league camp, happy to be making an impression and soaking up all the knowledge he can.

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