Phillies

Gabe Kapler unveils 3 members of Phillies' coaching staff

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Gabe Kapler unveils 3 members of Phillies' coaching staff

New Phillies manager Gabe Kapler unveiled the first three members of his coaching staff Friday.
 
Kapler stayed within the organization for a couple of important hires, retaining Rick Kranitz and naming Dusty Wathan third-base coach.

Kranitz's role is yet to be determined.
 
Kapler also hired John Mallee as hitting coach. Mallee (pronounced May-lee) most recently spent three seasons as the Cubs' hitting coach. Prior to that, he served as the hitting coach for the Astros (2013-14) and Marlins (2010-11). Mallee was actually drafted by the Phillies back in 1991.
 
Kranitz, 59, has previously been major-league pitching coach for the Marlins, Orioles and Brewers. He joined the Phillies' staff as bullpen coach before the 2016 season and served as the club's assistant pitching coach under Bob McClure last season.
 
It's no surprise that the Phillies kept Kranitz. His experience — 10 seasons as a big-league pitching coach — and familiarity with the organization's pitchers will be valuable to Kapler, a first-year manager who most recently served as the director of player development for the Dodgers.
 
Wathan's hiring is also not a surprise. The 44-year-old former catcher has managed in the Phillies' minor-league system for the past 10 seasons, has had an important hand in the development of many of the players projected to help the Phillies in coming seasons, and was a finalist for the job that went to Kapler. Had Wathan not been named to the big-league staff, he would have returned to manage the Triple A Lehigh Valley club in 2018. Wathan was the Eastern League manager of the year while leading the Double A Reading club in 2015 and 2016.
 
"Dusty was incredibly impressive in this process," general manager Matt Klentak said last week at the news conference to announce Kapler's hiring. "Obviously, the fact that he was a finalist would suggest that we thought a lot of him. ... We are really proud of everything he accomplished and the way he conducted himself in the interview process. We're really glad he's with the Phillies."
 
While initially disappointed to not get the manager's job, Wathan last week said he was eager to continue his work with the organization.
 
"I feel like this organization is on the cusp of big things," he said. "I feel like I've been a part of that and I'm looking forward to continuing to be a part of it."
 
Wathan's departure from the Triple A manager's post means the Phillies have an opening at that level.
 
Kapler and Klentak still have several more hires to make for the staff. At the news conference to announce his hiring last week, Kapler said he wanted to build a diverse coaching staff.
 
"I don't want seven people in the dugout who think just like me," he said. "I value somebody with a lot of veteran experience. I have a tremendous amount of value for someone who thinks more progressively. So I'd say diversity of thought, diversity of experience, that's a strong way to build a major-league coaching staff."

Phillies’ win over Braves wasn’t just another game to Gabe Kapler

Phillies’ win over Braves wasn’t just another game to Gabe Kapler

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Pregame or postgame, before he's asked any questions, Gabe Kapler talks briefly about what's on his mind heading into or coming out of a contest.

On Wednesday, before any reporter had a chance to ask the generic, "So how big is this one?" question, Kapler offered this:

"This is a big game for us tonight, and I think it's worth noting that we're all thinking about it that way," he said three hours before the Phils and Braves played their rubber match. "There is a heightened sense of excitement, there's a heightened sense of urgency. Tonight's game means a lot to us. I wanted to demonstrate that that's the way we feel about it."

Kudos to Kapler for eschewing conventional coach-speak about each game carrying the same importance. In this case, what he said rang true.

It was true because the Braves have had the Phillies' number all season, winning each of the prior three series, and because these teams don't meet again for 102 games — the last week of September. The Phillies didn't want to sit around for four months thinking, "What do we have to do to beat these guys?"

On Wednesday, the Phils closed out a series win by beating the Braves at their own game, scoring all four runs with two outs against an Atlanta team that has been by far the best in the majors in that regard (see first take).

Dominance from Jake Arrieta and Seranthony Dominguez helped the Phils to this 4-0 win, their second shutout in three nights and sixth of the season.

"When (GM) Matt Klentak went out to get Jake Arrieta late (in free agency), the thought process was he's good all-around," Kapler began. "We've talked about his leadership characteristics, the way he's guided some of our young starting pitchers."

"But really the reason Matt went out and got him and why we were so happy to have him tonight is because he can go through a lineup like the Braves' — the best in the National League to date — three times.

"Never once did we feel like he wasn't in complete control of the game. And that's why you go out and get a big-game pitcher like that. Because he can step up in these enormous moments."

The quirks of the Phillies' early-season schedule resulted in Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez each facing the Braves four times in their first 45 games. Arrieta, meanwhile, hadn't faced the Braves until this game.

During his days with the Cubs, though, Arrieta dominated most of these Atlanta hitters. No Brave entered Wednesday's game with more than two hits off of him.

And so far, Arrieta is enjoying the pressure of close games at Citizens Bank Park. After this gem, he's 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in five home starts.

He got some help from a couple friends. Jorge Alfaro nailed another base-stealer, Ender Inciarte again, with a perfect throw to second. If Alfaro hesitates even slightly or doesn't have pinpoint accuracy on that 90 mph throw, Inciarte extends his major-league lead in steals.

Instead, a fast runner was erased in a key situation. Kapler noted that in conversations with other teams, it's becoming clear to him that the league is noticing Alfaro's defense and game planning for it. Wouldn't be surprising to see teams stop running on him for a little while.

Dominguez, once again, was magnificent. It seems like the Phillies will save for him whichever situation involves the highest leverage, whether that's the seventh, eighth or ninth. The four consecutive outs Dominguez recorded in a row put his season numbers at 9 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts. He's essentially pitched a one-hit shutout, and after Wednesday's game, he confessed that even he is a little surprised at how eye-popping his first month has been.

But as they say, it all begins with starting pitching, and starting pitching is what will keep the Phillies competitive moving forward. They're 11-5 since May 5, largely because the rotation has a MLB-best 1.59 ERA over those 16 games.

We've reached a point where we can't just blindly write off the first seven weeks of the season as a fluke. This Phillies team has enough talent offensively, in the rotation and bullpen to sustain winning ways.

After finally conquering the Braves in this fourth try, they'll also have some added swagger.

"I said before today's game that this game was different and I meant it," Kapler said. "It felt like it in the dugout, it felt like it in the ballpark and that was a special performance by Jake."

Phillies take a page out of Braves' book to notch key series win

Phillies take a page out of Braves' book to notch key series win

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The Phillies took a page out of the Braves' book Wednesday night, scoring all of their runs with two outs en route to a much-needed series win.

The Braves have been a remarkably clutch team this season. They lead the majors in batting average, OBP and slugging with runners in scoring position, and they've scored 119 runs with two outs. Entering Wednesday night, that was 17 more than any team in baseball and 47 more than the Phillies.

In the series finale, it was the Phillies' situational hitting that stood out.

The 4-0 win makes the Phillies 28-19 and the Braves 29-19. Yet again, the Phils are a half game out of first place.

The Phils and Braves will not meet again for 102 games. They'll face each other Sept. 20-23 in Atlanta and then in the final series of the season Sept. 28-30.

Arrieta dazzles
Jake Arrieta continues to dominate at Citizens Bank Park (see story). He cruised through his first six innings before running into trouble with two outs in the seventh. With runners on second and third, Gabe Kapler made the call to Seranthony Dominguez after a conversation on the mound and Dominguez made his manager look good with a swinging strikeout of Preston Tucker.

Arrieta pitched 6⅔ scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 2.45. He's been especially locked in at home with a 0.84 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.

Arrieta struck out seven, his second-highest total as a Phillie. 

His biggest jam occurred in the second inning when the Braves put runners at second and third with nobody out. Just like Vince Velasquez last night, Arrieta worked his way out of that jam unscathed with two groundouts and a strikeout.

Arrieta still has the highest groundball rate in the National League, just south of 57 percent. The league average is 43 percent.

Dominant Dominguez
Dominguez has essentially pitched a one-hit shutout to begin his MLB career.

He retired all four batters he faced Wednesday on a strikeout and three groundouts.

Dominguez's numbers this season: 9 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts.

The Phillies have a good one. And it's great to see that they're utilizing him in whichever situation has the highest leverage, whether it's the seventh, eighth or ninth inning.

The 4-5 combo
Aaron Altherr and Carlos Santana were the offensive heroes in this one. Santana singled twice, including an RBI infield single to plate the Phils' first run. Altherr walked twice, extending the inning for Santana's RBI hit and scoring on Maikel Franco's double an inning later.

Santana has made up for his poor April. Since May 1, he's hit .271 with a .999 OPS, five doubles, a triple, six homers and 19 RBI in 19 games. He's also walked four more times than he's struck out.

Nick Williams also provided a key insurance run with a pinch-hit RBI double in the eighth. Williams is 8 for 18 (.444) as a pinch-hitter this season with two homers, a double and seven RBI.

Alfaro's impactful arm
Jorge Alfaro gunned out yet another runner at second base, making the perfect throw necessary in the seventh inning to nab Ender Inciarte, who leads the majors with 18 steals. 

Alfaro has thrown out nine would-be base-stealers to lead the National League. He's one behind Jonathan Lucroy for the major-league lead.

Alfaro also has the strongest throwing arm of any MLB catcher (90.5 mph) for the second straight season.

Difference-making defense behind the plate.

Kingery's woes continue
Scott Kingery continues to expand the strike zone with swings at breaking balls he has no chance of hitting. In his first at-bat Wednesday, he chased breaking balls low and off the plate on consecutive pitches to basically strike himself out.

Kingery has swung at 39 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in his rookie season, fifth most in the National League.

He's hitting .213 on the season with a .263 OBP, 40 strikeouts and eight walks. 

Kingery did strike a ball hard in his final at-bat but was robbed of extra bases by Ronald Acuña Jr.

A little help?
Rhys Hoskins, in the midst of a 20-game slump, threw his hands up in the air in a "What do I gotta do?" kind of way after a deep lineout in the fourth inning. Hoskins hit a ball about 320 feet to the corner in right field but Nick Markakis made an impressive running grab.

All in all, it was a decent night at the plate for Hoskins, who went 1 for 3 with a walk and that lineout.

Up next
The Phillies are off Thursday before playing a three-game, interleague series this weekend against the Blue Jays.

They'll see an old friend on Sunday.

Friday — Zach Eflin (1-0, 1.56) vs. Sam Gaviglio (1-0, 0.93)

Saturday  Aaron Nola (6-2, 2.37) vs. Joe Biagini (0-3, 7.71)

Sunday — Nick Pivetta (4-2, 3.23) vs. J.A. Happ (6-3, 3.97)