Phillies

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler shakes off boos in home-opening win

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler shakes off boos in home-opening win

BOX SCORE

It’s foolish to call the sixth game of a manager’s career a “must-win,” but that’s what it felt like Thursday for Gabe Kapler. He was ripped and ridiculed for his decisions during the Phillies’ 1-4 season-opening road trip and when the club came home to Citizens Bank Park on Thursday … well, it wasn’t exactly Welcome Wagon.

Kapler was booed during introductions and again – quite lustily — when he made a key pitching change with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, a runner on base and his team up by three runs on the Miami Marlins. Out went Nick Pivetta and in came Adam Morgan to face slugger Justin Bour. The lefty-on-lefty matchup paid dividends as Morgan struck out Bour on three pitches. It was the pivotal moment in Kapler’s must-win, 5-0 victory over the Marlins and it didn’t go unnoticed in the dugout (see first take). As Morgan’s third-strike breaking ball branded catcher Jorge Alfaro’s mitt, bench coach Rob Thomson patted the beleaguered manager on the back.

“It’s about support,” said Thomson, in his first season with the Phillies after working under Joe Torre and Joe Girardi with the New York Yankees.

“We’re all a team here and we all have his back. I’ve been booed before. It’s part of the gig. I was happy for him, for Morgan and the team.”

Kapler did not seem stung by the boos.

“I’m glad to wear them if every day the fans are cheering for our players,” he said. “I’ll take that, 100 percent.”

There were a few things for the sellout crowd to cheer about as the Phils won their first home opener since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Pivetta pitched 5 2/3 innings of four-hit, walk-free ball. He featured a power slider and struck out nine. Morgan, Luis Garcia and Hector Neris teamed on 3 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen. The Phils stole four bases, Odubel Herrera had a big hit and Maikel Franco had a big day with three hits – half of the team’s total. Franco had a two-run single and a two-run homer (see story).

The Marlins were a compliant opponent. Their pitchers issued nine walks and the Phils turned three of them into runs.

Pivetta had no qualms with Kapler’s decision to remove him at 97 pitches.

“It’s the right call,” he said. “Adam is a tremendous guy to come out of the bullpen, he’s a lefty and Bour’s a good hitter.”

The crowd cheered Pivetta as he walked off the mound. Moments later, it booed Kapler as he handed Morgan the ball and returned to the dugout. It will take a few more victories to win over the Philadelphia fans.

Kapler is up for the challenge.

“I’m going to work my ass off for these fans,” he said. “I’m going to give them everything I have. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do: Work my tail off. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that I am in this with them. Hopefully over the course of time, they will learn to trust that my process is strong.”

Dodgers fans pack Citizens Bank Park, heckle Bryce Harper

Dodgers fans pack Citizens Bank Park, heckle Bryce Harper

The Dodgers are a storied franchise coming off back-to-back World Series appearances. They came into Philadelphia with the best record in all of baseball, 62-33.

Still ... pretty surprising how well they traveled for this series.

Phillies fans outnumbered Dodgers fans Monday night at Citizens Bank Park but the gap wasn't as large as you'd think. There was Dodger blue all over at Citizens Bank Park, group after group chanting "Let's go, Dodgers!" (I got a good amount of heckling while doing my pregame report from the concourse.)

When Scott Kingery struck out to begin the bottom of the first, there was a loud cheer. When Bryce Harper came to the plate two batters later, the second deck in right field filled with Dodgers fans broke out an "O-ver-ra-ted" chant, and Harper hit an opposite-field single mere seconds later.

Harper appeared to wave to that group after singling.

This was a nice little trip for Dodgers fans — Fenway Park and CBP right out of the All-Star break. Many of them came straight down from Boston.

Cool atmosphere, but it would have been even more electric if the Phillies were playing as well as many expected. When a team three games over .500 meets a team 29 games over, it just doesn't have the same kind of playoff preview feel.

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MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

Track all the latest MLB trade deadline news and rumors here through July 31.

Race for Ray

The Phillies are again showing interest in Robbie Ray, according to Jon Morosi. We have mentioned Ray frequently here as a Phillies trade target dating back to last summer.

Ray would help any contender. He’s a 27-year-old lefty with an extremely high strikeout rate. He experiences bouts of wildness and does lead the National League with 56 walks, but he has also settled in to a mid-3.00s ERA the last three seasons.

The left-handedness and legit swing-and-miss stuff make Ray the type of pitcher the Phillies do not have.

Ray turns 28 on Oct. 1. Based on his age and remaining contract — 2020 is his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent — he would be a great fit for the Phillies, even if they do continue to fall out of the playoff race. Ray would help them now and next season and would be a prime extension candidate if he pitches well.

The competition for his services via trade will be intense. The Astros (more on them below) are also in on Ray, and plenty of other clubs have expressed interest in the past. The Phillies would have to trade a player or two they don’t want to trade to acquire him.

Speedsters available

The Royals have made lightning-fast outfielders Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore available. Neither is much of a fit for the Phillies, who already have Roman Quinn in that role.

Hamilton and Gore could both help a contender in need of a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner. They are both impactful defenders and baserunners who can't hit.

As for Whit Merrifield, it seems unlikely Kansas City would move him despite being 30 games under .500. Merrifield is such a good, multi-dimensional player that the Royals deserve a huge score for him. At 30 years old, he is enjoying by far his best season, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Merrifield's .861 OPS is 55 points higher than his previous career-high.

Merrifield's dynamic offense and positional versatility make him a fit anywhere. The Cubs would make a ton of sense. 

Astros after a starter?

The Astros have gotten huge production from their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. But the back of the rotation remains a question mark. Collin McHugh is pitching in a mop-up role, Brad Peacock is dealing with a sore shoulder, Framber Valdez has been lit up three starts in a row, and Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of July.

The Astros are still maybe the deepest team in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win would represent disappointment in 2019. Madison Bumgarner would make a whole lot of sense for Houston, which is still rich in prospects after all of their graduations to the majors.

Trade season begins

A pair of solid but unspectacular starting pitchers were moved this past weekend to kick off trade deadline activity.

Remember, these next two weeks figure to be even more frenzied than usual in July because there is now a hard trade deadline of July 31. No more August trades, except those involving a swap of minor-leaguers.

The Orioles sent Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox for a pair of 17-year-old position player prospects who had been playing for Boston's Dominican Summer League team. 

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cashner went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. Baltimore went 11-6 in his starts and 17-59 in all other games.

The Red Sox needed another starting pitcher with the Nate Eovaldi experiment going sideways. Eovaldi has missed much of the season and will shift to the bullpen upon his return later this month. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

The Royals, meanwhile, traded Homer Bailey to the A's for a fringy Double A infielder. Bailey has been just OK this season, with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. 

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