Phillies

Gabe Kapler makes an important investment in an important pitcher

Gabe Kapler makes an important investment in an important pitcher

Confidence is baseball’s magic potion and teams these days spend big money on sports psychologists who, among other things, try to help players brew that important intangible. But sometimes there’s nothing scientific about the building of a player’s confidence. Sometimes it just takes the boss showing a little faith in the guy.

Gabe Kapler did more than preside over the Phillies’ sixth win in eight games on Sunday. He made an important investment in an important pitcher who seems primed for a big payoff this season.

Taking the mound the day before his 25th birthday, Zach Eflin backboned a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins with seven innings of one-run ball. He got help, lots of it, particularly from Rhys Hoskins, who clubbed a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth, left fielder Andrew McCutchen, who gunned down a run at the plate, and relievers David Robertson, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris, who combined for six outs to protect a one-run lead.

Eflin acknowledged that he did not do it alone.

“McCutchen, Hoskins, the bullpen — they deserve everything in this game,” he said.

The hat tip was not surprising because Eflin is a class guy. But his impact on the win was also huge because he’s the guy who kept the Phillies in the game on a day when they faced a tough arm in Jose Berrios and produced only four hits.

Eflin’s day actually did not start well as Max Kepler hit the fourth pitch of the day into the seats. After that, Eflin pitched shutout ball the rest of the day.

The right-hander was nearly lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth. He got a reprieve and struck out two batters in the sixth, including Jonathan Schoop, the third out, on a 95-mph fastball on his 95th pitch of the day.

It seemed plausible that Eflin’s day would have been over at that point. But Kapler sent him out for the seventh, with the lead, and Eflin responded with a 1-2-3 inning on 10 pitches.

Kapler came into the game wanting to rest Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez so he was looking for a little extra from Eflin. But Eflin wouldn’t have gotten that extra inning if he hadn’t been effective and earned the manager’s confidence.

“He earned the opportunity to go back out there,” Kapler said. “He was so effective, I thought it was the right time to give him that rope.

“Each time we give somebody an opportunity to do a little bit more than they did the last time out, we see it as an investment. If they come through that with flying colors, like Zach did, it just creates a whole bunch more confidence in the dugout that the next time he can go to that 105, 110, 115 mark and do so successfully.”

Eflin was pumped that the boss believed in him.

“It was huge,” he said. “Because that doesn’t happen a lot with me. Typically when I’m at 90-plus pitches through six innings, they pull me. It was really nice to see that confidence that Gabe had in me and I had in myself.”

The Phillies’ rebuild started with Eflin when he was acquired in the trade that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers in December 2014. Eflin has had some very good moments in a Phillies uniform, particularly last June when he went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts. He’s got the talent to be a very good major-league starter. Now, he just needs the consistency. It might be coming. Through two starts in the young season, he’s been the Phillies’ best pitcher. He has given up just nine hits and one run over 12 innings. He has walked one and struck out 14.

If these Phillies are going to go where they’d like to, Eflin needs to keep delivering.

The manager has faith in him.

“If he’s pitching like he’s pitching right now, which is as good as anybody in either league, then it would mean that we have three potential Cy Young award winners,” said Kapler, referring also to Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.

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The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

Dave Raymond, the OG Phillie Phanatic, was alarmed when he read the news earlier this week.

No Mascots!

Has Major League Baseball lost its mind?

Or worse, its sense of humor?

Don’t misunderstand, Raymond, the man who breathed life into that big ball of green fur from the time it debuted in 1978 until 1993, is all for ridding the world of this nasty coronavirus beast. He’s all for social distancing, frequent handwashing and everything else that goes with protecting folks from getting sick. He knows how serious this thing is.

And that’s why he’s hoping that MLB won’t follow through on its plan to ban mascots from games when and if the sport comes back with a proposed 82-game schedule in July.

“I understand that only essential personnel can physically be at the games,” Raymond said Friday. “But I would argue that in these serious times mascots are more essential than ever.”

After shedding the Phanatic’s fur and handing the keys to the ATV to the equally brilliant Tom Burgoyne 26 years ago, Raymond dedicated his professional life to the concept of fun. It’s serious business. Raymond has owned and operated companies that help professional teams and college sports programs develop mascots/brands. He has trained mascots and helped found a mascot Hall of Fame. His current focus is motivational speaking. Everything is centered around the Power of Fun — which just so happens to be the title of his book — and how it can make a difference in people’s lives.

In these trying times when lives have been lost, when people have gotten sick and when the world has wrapped a mask around its face and gone into quarantine, Raymond is preaching louder than ever about the importance of a little fun and the respite it can offer in difficult times.

“It’s a scientific fact that laughing helps a person emotionally and physically,” he said.

That’s why he believes mascots need to have their place in baseball’s return.

“Mascots are a reflection of the fans’ heart and soul and part of the reason fans get emotionally connected to their teams,” he said. “During this time, we need the connection they provide more than ever. I understand that fans can’t be in the stadiums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still engage them through mascots and character brands. Baseball needs to be creative and carve out space for entertainment.”

Raymond proposes that mascots be featured on television broadcasts when the game returns. It would be kind of funny to see a camera pan over to the Phanatic sitting all alone in section 305. Maybe even have Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely play in the background.

If the Phanatic absolutely, positively cannot be in the ballpark, then he could be featured through technology and social media. Raymond proposed live streaming the Phanatic, wherever he might be, watching the game. Run it across social media platforms and have fans follow along. Raymond also proposed prerecording videos that could feature fans playing catch with the final throw landing in the Phanatic’s glove as he stands on the field. Another idea: Replace the Phanatic’s middle-of-the-fifth-inning dance skit with a live Zoom call on Phanavision and let fans log in. He’d like to see this stuff in every major league city.

“I understand it’s safety first, but there’s still room to lighten things up a little,” Raymond said.

Raymond is sharing this message with mascots who have been sidelined all over the country, from the major leagues to the minor leagues to the colleges. He has personally tutored many of them. They are his friends. Some have been furloughed from their jobs.

“It’s really devastating,” he said.

On Tuesday, Raymond will host a Zoom webinar for mascots and officials from teams, leagues and colleges that he has worked with over the years. It’s titled What The Heck Should My Mascot Do Now?

For Dave Raymond, the answer is simple:

Follow the rules, but by all means, be creative, embrace technology and mascot on.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Locations, opponents, details on Spring Training II

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Phillies Talk podcast: Locations, opponents, details on Spring Training II

On today's Phillies Talk podcast, Jim Salisbury and I discussed what Spring Training II could look like amid Jim's report that the Phillies will likely get to stay home and train in South Philadelphia.

• Benefits of having camp at home.

• Who could Phillies play in Spring Training II?

• What happens to the minor-leaguers? Will there even be a minor-league season?

• Just how big could regular-season rosters get?

• Spencer Howard will likely put pressure on Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez.

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