ATLANTA — A day after his disastrous big-league managerial debut, Gabe Kapler stuck to his guns.
“Last night’s loss stung, but I think I’d probably point back to how much confidence we have as a group,” Kapler said before Friday night's game. “We’re not going to get emotional. Despite the fact last night’s loss stung, we’re going to put our men in the best position to succeed every day and we believe we have the personnel to continue to win baseball games, a lot of baseball games.”
Kapler removed his best pitcher, Aaron Nola, from Thursday's season opener after 5 1/3 innings and 68 pitches. The Phillies were up, 5-0, at the time. Hoby Milner came on and surrendered a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman. That swung the momentum of the game and the Phils ended up losing, 8-5, on a walk-off homer by Nick Markakis (see story). The bullpen was tagged for seven runs.
Kapler defended his quick hook of Nola and his use of Milner.
“Hoby didn’t give up a home run against a left-handed batter last year,” Kapler said. “He limited all sorts of damage last year. He induced weak contact last year. I believe he was the right matchup for Freeman and Markakis in the sixth.”
Kapler spoke with Milner on Friday.
“I just wanted him to know that we’re going to put him right back in that position,” Kapler said. “That’s why he’s here — to get those dudes out and to get guys like those two dudes out. We have so much faith in Hoby’s ability to go do that and we look forward to the next time we put him in that position because we think he’s going to succeed.”
Nola is a soft-spoken Southern gentleman who wouldn’t say shiitake mushroom if he had a mouthful of them. But it was clear after Thursday’s loss that he wasn’t happy about coming out of the game at 68 pitches.
Kapler spoke to Nola on Friday.
“He and I had a great discussion," Kapler said. "I said, ‘Look, I have every confidence that you could have gone another inning and you could have been really good and the decision to remove you from that game was not about me having any lack of confidence in you. My decision to remove you from the game was that I had an incredible amount of confidence in Hoby.
“I said, ‘Noles, we’re going to lean on you in a major way going forward. We want you to pitch a ton of innings this year, but we want you to pitch those innings over the course of the year and we’re not trying to get them all out on opening day.’
“We still felt like we were going for the win last night with Hoby and I believe if we run that same play out more times than not, we’re going to come out on the winning end.”