Phillies

New bench coach Rob Thomson is Yankees’ loss, Phillies' gain

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New bench coach Rob Thomson is Yankees’ loss, Phillies' gain

CLEARWATER, Fla. – It will probably hit Rob Thomson sometime on Sunday. That’s when the New York Yankees visit Spectrum Field, the Phillies’ spring-training home.

Thomson spent 28 seasons in the Yankees’ famous pinstripes, serving in player-development, front-office and coaching roles.

Most recently, he was the bench coach for former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Thomson was one of five people interviewed to replace Girardi after last season. Aaron Boone got the job, but Thomson wasn’t a free agent for long. The Phillies quickly scooped up the 54-year-old baseball lifer and installed him as new manager Gabe Kapler’s top lieutenant.

On Sunday, Thomson will look across the diamond and see his past.

But all he’s thinking about is the future.

“I feel like I’m part of the Phillies family already,” he said. “The people have been great. They’ve welcomed me right in.

“I’m here to support Gabe in any way I can. I’ve got his back all the time.”

Phillies management wanted a veteran coaching presence around the 42-year-old Kapler, whose only managing experience came a decade ago in the low minors. New pitching coach Rick Kranitz held that position with three other clubs over 10 seasons. New hitting coach John Mallee previously held that position with the Astros and Cubs.

Thomson worked on Joe Torre’s staff before working under Girardi. He lived through the Yankees’ growth as one of baseball’s analytic giants. He's just what the Phillies and Kapler were looking for.

“I ask everybody everything all the time,” Kapler said. “I contacted no fewer than 20 people about Rob and heard nothing even remotely negative. I weigh that more than a six-hour interview. You might nail the interview, but you can’t fake your career.”

Kapler’s most valuable appraisal came from Girardi, who said Thomson was an incredible teammate.

“In my opinion, that’s the best compliment anyone in baseball can give,” Kapler said.

Thomson is a former catcher. He played on the 1984 Canadian Olympic team and in the Tigers' farm system before joining the Yankees’ player development department.

While working on Torre’s staff, Thomson learned the value of trust.

“Joe Torre was really into relationships and gaining trust with a player and that taught me a lot,” Thomson said. “Before you can really help players, they have to be able to trust you.

“With Joe Girardi, he was a little more analytics-driven so that taught me a lot. We’d always looked at numbers but it taught me to really dive into some of the more critical numbers that are around today.

“In a lot of ways, Gabe reminds me of Joe (Girardi) because of his presence and openness to ideas. Those are great qualities for a leader to have.”

Thomson arrives at work pre-dawn in spring training to plan the day. He is known to arrive at noon for a regular season night game. With data study, scouting reports, video, one-on-one coaching and meetings, the preparation for a single game rivals what happens in the NFL – only it happens every day. When game time arrives, Thomson will be at Kapler’s side, making suggestions and offering ideas (see story). He said he takes nothing personal, so Kapler can wave him off any time.

“But I won’t," Kapler said with a laugh. “I need that.”

A step forward for Aaron Nola and a dream come true for Phil Gosselin

A step forward for Aaron Nola and a dream come true for Phil Gosselin

DENVER — Phil Gosselin had been here before, just not in front of 40,530 fans.

“I’ve been up with the bases loaded a lot for the Phillies,” he said late Saturday night in the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field. “It was just in my backyard as a kid and it didn’t really count.”

This one counted.

“It felt good to come through,” he said with a smile.

Gosselin grew up in West Chester, saw his first big-league game at Veterans Stadium wearing a Scott Rolen shirt, and went on to star at Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia. All these years later, after stops on the big-league trail in Atlanta, Arizona, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Texas, Gosselin helped the team he grew up rooting for — the team that he says made him fall in love with baseball — win a game.

The 30-year-old infielder clubbed a three-run double in the fourth inning to give the Phils a lead that they never relinquished in an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies (see observations).

What would that little kid in the backyard think now?

“He would think it was all a dream, to be honest,” Gosselin said. “It was always a goal of mine. I never thought I was that great. I never thought I’d be in the big leagues, if I’m being honest. It was one of those pinch-yourself kind of moments.”

Gosselin signed a minor-league deal with the Phils in December and was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday. He got the start, his first with the Phils, at shortstop after the team placed Scott Kingery and Jean Segura on the injured list earlier Saturday (see story). Both have hamstring injuries. Gosselin will likely play shortstop until Segura is eligible to come off the IL next weekend. Kingery will need more time than that.

Gosselin’s three-run double, coupled with Bryce Harper’s three-run home run late in the game, helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola on a night when the right-hander showed signs of being his old self after a rough start to the season. Gosselin’s no-out double was a long fly ball to right-center that kept carrying and carrying before hitting the top of the wall.

“I wasn’t sure if it was going to get off the wall or not,” he said. “I was talking to it the whole way. Luckily, I got enough of it.”

One night earlier, Gosselin entered the game after Kingery injured himself. He stroked a two-out single in the top of the 12th and came around to score on a double by Harper. For a few moments, it looked as if he was going to be one of the stars of an extra-innings win. Then Charlie Blackmon ended all the Phillies’ feel-good storylines with a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning and Gosselin’s hit was just a footnote to what manager Gabe Kapler called a “brutal” loss.

“Good organizations, teams that win, have guys like Gosselin come up and perform in big moments,” Kapler said. “You can't win a lot of games, you can't go to the postseason, unless you have guys from the minor leagues come up and perform. Your non-roster guy that gets a big hit for you. He's been swinging the bat really well. He's earned the right to keep rolling.

“I can only imagine what it's like to grow up in the Philadelphia area as a die-hard Phillies fan and then to come through like he did. He must be on top of the world right now.”

Even beyond the victory, which improved the Phils to 12-8, there was something important to feel good about. Nola had struggled in his previous outings. Though he allowed 10 base runners in 5 2/3 innings, he battled, made big pitches and got big outs — he had nine strikeouts — at crucial junctures of the game.

“His back was against the wall early on,” Kapler said. “He's just a fighter. Nothing fazes Aaron Nola. I know that this has been tough to struggle a little bit. But he showed you why he is such a strong performer. He's able to withstand some of that pressure.

“It was really comforting to see him come out and perform like that for us.”

Nola’s fastball reached 95 mph and his curveball got better and better as the night went on.

“I didn’t get a 1-2-3 inning all night,” Nola said. “There was always traffic on base so I had to bear down and focus on making quality pitches.”

Something to build on?

“Absolutely,” Nola said.

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Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

BOX SCORE

DENVER — The Phillies finally solved the beast of Coors Field in an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.

Aaron Nola delivered a solid start in earning the win and Phil Gosselin and Bryce Harper both drove in three runs.

Gosselin, a West Chester native and former Malvern Prep star making his first start, gave the Phils the lead with a bases-loaded double in the fourth.

The win snapped the Phillies' six-game losing streak in Coors Field, dating to September.

The Phils are 12-8, first place in the NL East.

Colorado is 8-13.

The keys

• Nola showed tremendous intangibles — resilience and toughness. He allowed first-pitch homers in the first and second innings and pitched with traffic on the bases most of the night. But he got big outs when he had to. For instance, he struck out two with the bases loaded to end the third inning, preventing a one-run Colorado inning from getting bigger. He got a big strikeout with a runner on third to end the fourth and stranded two in the fifth.

• Big hits had been scarce for the Phillies in this series, but they got one from Gosselin, a three-run double in the fourth inning.

• Nola helped himself at the plate. His successful sacrifice bunt in the third inning sent Maikel Franco to second and set up a two-out RBI single by Cesar Hernandez.

• Charlie Blackmon is always a thorn in the Phillies’ side. He won Friday night’s game for the Rockies with a two-run homer in the 12th then hit the first pitch Nola threw out of the park to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead in this one. Blackmon had hits in each of his first three at-bats against Nola. Nola struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth but manager Gabe Kapler would not allow the right-hander to face Blackmon again, not in a one-run game. He summoned lefty Adam Morgan and he used his slider-fastball combo to strike out Blackmon and end the inning. Morgan has pitched nine scoreless innings this season. He has allowed three hits and one walk. He has struck out 10.

• Harper made everyone in the Phillies’ dugout breathe a little easier when he smacked a three-run homer in the seventh to turn a one-run lead into a four-run lead. That was big because the Rockies rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. Hector Neris survived a near game-tying homer by Trevor Story in the eighth en route to a five-out save. Andrew McCutchen clubbed a solo homer in the ninth to give Neris a little extra cushion.

Nola's night

Nola had struggled in his previous three outings so this was a clear step forward. Though he allowed nine hits over 5 2/3 innings, he limited the Rockies to three runs by getting big outs. He struck out nine and really seemed to find his breaking ball late in the outing. He got seven swinging strikes on the pitch. His fastball touched 95 mph. All in all, definitely something to build on.

Transactions

There were lots of them as the Phils placed three players on the injured list. The full recap and what it all means is here (see story).

Up next

Jerad Eickhoff, healthy after dealing with something similar to carpal tunnel syndrome the last two seasons, makes his first start of the new season in the series finale Sunday afternoon. He will face Rockies’ right-hander Jon Gray.

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