Phillies

Gabe Kapler fired up to bring back John Middleton's bleeping trophy

Gabe Kapler fired up to bring back John Middleton's bleeping trophy

Gabe Kapler does his homework.

The 42-year-old stud muffin — did we really just say that? — was officially introduced as the 54th manager in Phillies history on Thursday. Kapler was polished and articulate as he spoke to reporters during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park. He addressed a couple of thorny issues head-on (see story). He spoke with the passion of a tent revival preacher — or was it Randy "Macho Man" Savage? — as he talked about inspiring and leading young players to baseball's Promised Land. He came across as competitive, intense, brainy, quirky, resourceful, hard-working and prepared.

That preparedness showed when he punctuated his inspiring opening remarks by citing a moment that has come to symbolize where the Phillies once were and where they haven't been in a long time.

"Bring that effing trophy back to John Middleton," a fired-up Kapler, wearing a fresh, new, red Phillies cap, said of his goals.

Middleton, the team's controlling owner and the man who pushed to bring change and outside perspectives like Kapler's to the Phillies over the last 2½ years, sat in the front row as his new manager spoke. He had to have been impressed that Kapler took the time to research a famous moment that occurred eight autumns ago on the night the Phillies failed to repeat as World Series champions. In the losing clubhouse at Yankee Stadium that night in 2009, Middleton approached Ryan Howard and said, "Ryan, I want my (bleeping) trophy back." The Phillies haven't been back to the World Series since and haven't had a winning season in six years. Now, it's Kapler's job to try to get the Phillies where they once were. It won't happen overnight — this team is still in a rebuild, after all — but Kapler is ready for the challenge and believes the first step in getting that bleeping trophy back is playing in the mold of the man who played second base on that 2008 World Series championship team.

"I was lucky enough to get to know Chase Utley in Los Angeles and I saw him prepare in the clubhouse," said Kapler, who most recently served as the Dodgers' director of player development. "It was unbelievable how much intensity he prepared for the game with, and during the game how much effort he put in. He led by example. And that’s how we’re going to play baseball with the Philadelphia Phillies going forward.

"We’re going to play with the same level of intensity that Chase played with. We’re going to make razor-sharp turns around the bases. When the ball enters the hitting zone, we’re going to be in powerful and athletic positions. Before the game begins, we’re going to prepare, prepare, prepare so that we've thought out everything and make strong decisions. We’re going to hunt for value at the margins. We’re not going to leave any stone unturned to find our competitive advantages. We’re going to think traditionally and we’re going to think progressively. We will care deeply about winning and we will be ultra-competitive."

Kapler succeeds Pete Mackanin, who was moved to a front-office advisory role at the end of the 2017 season. A fitness and nutrition aficionado with a physique that attests to that, Kapler is also deeply committed to the use of analytics in constructing rosters, lineups and running games. His interest and literacy in analytics mirrors that of the front office and made him a natural candidate.

"As we were reaching the end of the [interview] process, it became very clear there was one person who separated himself and was the right man to lead the Phillies into the future," general manager Matt Klentak said.

"Gabe Kapler is incredibly prepared. If he brings the same level of preparation and grit to the Phillies that he brought to the field as a player, our fans are going to love this guy.

"He has a unique ability to connect with people and I think that bodes very well for our young roster. He's a progressive thinker. Look at the teams (Indians, Cubs, Dodgers, Astros) that competed in the last two World Series. These are among the most progressive organizations in baseball. That's where the Phillies need to head and Gabe Kapler is going to be a huge asset to us as we try to progress to the future."

Kapler played 12 seasons in the majors and won a World Series with the Boston Red Sox in 2004. He has just one year of managing experience in the minor leagues, but that was not seen as a detriment by management.

"At some point, everybody has no experience," said Middleton, the 62-year-old former wrestling star who looks like he could still administer a half-nelson with ease.

Like Klentak, Middleton likes Kapler's commitment to thinking outside the box from everything from nutrition to analytics to communicating with players. (Kapler mentioned that some players respond best to text messages.)

And there's one other thing Middleton likes about his new skipper.

"I’m a reasonably intense guy, I’ve been told, so I think we connected literally on a visceral level," Middleton said.

There is still work to do for these Phillies. It will be a busy offseason as Klentak is expected to shop both of his middle infielders (Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez) for trades. He also needs to add a couple of starting pitchers. But the offseason's first order of business is complete. Gabe Kapler is on board. The next task is building a coaching staff. Triple A manager Dusty Wathan, a runner-up for the manager's job (see story), could be on the staff. Rick Kranitz, the assistant pitching coach in 2017, could move into the head role.

"I believe in building diversity," Kapler said. "I don't want seven people in the dugout who think just like me. I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience and I have a tremendous amount of value for someone who thinks more progressively. Diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff."

Phillies' series loss to Rockies gnaws at Gabe Kapler

Phillies' series loss to Rockies gnaws at Gabe Kapler

DENVER — The Phillies’ offense, pretty much nonexistent for much of the day, began to stir with two outs in the ninth inning. One hit. A second hit and a run. A third hit. Suddenly it’s a three-run game and there are runners on second and third.

In the on-deck circle, Bryce Harper motioned to hitting coach John Mallee and asked to look at a sheet of paper bearing some intel on Colorado reliever Wade Davis.

All the Phillies needed was for Cesar Hernandez to reach base for Harper to get a chance with the bases loaded in Coors Field, the place where anything can and often does happen. You could almost hear Harper saying, “Get me to the plate, boys,” as Ryan Howard did one long ago October in the same ballpark.

Harper never made it out of the on-deck circle. Davis retired Hernandez and the Phillies trudged back to the clubhouse with a 4-1 loss (see observations), their third in four days in the series and seventh in their last eight games at Coors Field, dating to September of last season.

“I think we can play better than we did in this series,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

The Phils pretty much gave away Friday night’s 12-inning game by going 1 for 16 with runners in scoring position and leaving 19 men on base.

And, on Sunday, they had just two hits over the first 8 2/3 innings and Hernandez committed a costly base-running blunder in the fourth inning when the Rockies were leading just 1-0.

“It was a big play,” Kapler said. “It’s a play that can’t happen.”

The Phils were looking at having runners on first and second with one out against Jon Gray after the Rockies muffed a force out at second. The ball got away from second baseman Garrett Hampson as Hernandez slid into second. Umpire Joe West flashed the safe sign. However, Hernandez did not see the loose ball (which was in front of him) nor did he see West’s signal. He started walking back to the dugout and eventually was tagged for the second out. It cost the Phils a run, and maybe more, because Maikel Franco followed with a double.

“It’s ultimately my fault,” Hernandez said. “I know better. I should have stayed on the base until I was 100 percent sure if I was out or safe. I just assumed I was out. It's a learning experience for me. Hopefully it won't happen again.”

Both Hernandez and Kapler said they wished West had voiced his call as well as signaled it.

“That always helps,” Hernandez said. “But, again, it’s not his fault. It’s mine.”

Said Kapler: “Joe did not say anything verbally. He held his hands out (safe sign). You always like, when you can get it, a demonstrative call one way or the other; I’m definitely not calling out Joe for anything in this particular case. I think this is something that Cesar has to be responsible for. If Cesar was standing right next to me, he’d tell you stay on the base until you’re absolutely certain what the call is.”

Hernandez has recently started to heat up after a slow start. However, he went hitless in five at-bats Sunday and did not look good in one of his two strikeouts. He was about to be pushed for work before Scott Kingery suffered a hamstring strain in this series and went on the disabled list.

About the only bright spot Sunday was starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, who allowed four runs in six innings, a solid performance in Coors Field and against a team that boasts the beast of Charlie Blackmon. He had 10 hits, including two triples and two homers, in the four games to raise his average from .219 to .286 and his OPS from .567 to .802.

The Phillies jetted to New York after the game. They play the Mets in Citi Field the next three nights.

Kapler wasn’t planning on kicking back with a scotch on the flight.

“We’ve got a lot to think about on this plane ride and we’re going to go through everything and be prepared to come out and beat the Mets,” he said.

He was asked to expound on what needed to be thought about.

“I think it’s more postmortem from this series, some of the things we could have done differently,” he said. “Take some time. I’d love to be able to tell you exactly what those things are, but that’s why you get on the plane and think about them.”

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Rockies 4, Phillies 1: Phillies' offense doesn't show up until it's too late in series finale

Rockies 4, Phillies 1: Phillies' offense doesn't show up until it's too late in series finale

BOX SCORE 

DENVER — The Phillies capped an unpleasant visit to Coors Field with a 4-1 loss on Sunday afternoon.

The offense produced just five hits and three of them came with two outs in the ninth as the Phils rallied for their only run. Colorado's Wade Davis retired Cesar Hernandez with two men on base to end the game.

The Phils lost three of four in the series and head to New York at 12-9.

The Phils are 5-13 against the Rockies since the start of the 2017 season. They have lost seven of the eight games that they’ve played at Coors Field since last September and been outscored 58-21.

The keys

• Two hits through 8 2/3 innings in Coors Field. That won't do it.

• Colorado starter Jon Gray kept the Phillies' hitters off-balance with a fastball that reached 97 mph and a slider/curveball mix that produced 13 swings and misses. Gray allowed just one hit over six shutout innings. He walked four and struck out five.

• With the Phillies down 1-0 in the fourth inning, Hernandez made a base-running blunder that ultimately cost his team a run. Hernandez had reached second in a muffed force play but did not notice that the ball had come loose and walked off the field toward the dugout and was tagged out.

Eickhoff’s day

Jerad Eickhoff had a solid outing in his first start of the season. He gave up just one run through five innings then paid for a couple of no-out walks en route to giving up three runs in the sixth. 

Like Aaron Nola the night before, Eickhoff got some big outs with runners on base. He did not get enough run support to pitch over the sixth inning. After the two walks, he gave up a single and a two-run double as Colorado built its lead to 4-0 in that frame. In all, Eickhoff allowed seven hits and four walks over six innings. He struck out eight.

Missing pop

Cleanup man Rhys Hoskins had three hits on Friday night and three more on Saturday before a hitless day in the series finale. He has gone seven games without an extra-base hit.

Phillie killer

Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon entered the four-game series hitting .219 with a .567 OPS. He ended the series hitting .286 with a .802 OPS. He had 10 hits, including two doubles and two triples, in 18 at-bats.

For his career, Blackmon is 56 for 161 (.348) with 10 homers and 23 RBIs against the Phils.

Health check

After an MRI, Phillies officials have determined that Scott Kingery’s hamstring strain is mild. There is still no timetable for his return. He suffered the injury Friday night.

Up next

The Phils visit Citi Field for the first time in the new season for a three-game series against the Mets (11-10) beginning on Monday night. Jake Arrieta looks to continue his strong start in the opener against Steven Matz. The Phils hung eight runs on Matz in the first inning of a game in Philadelphia last week. Zach Eflin pitches Tuesday night against Zack Wheeler and Vince Velasquez on Wednesday night against Jason Vargas.

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