So far, so bad for Gabe Kapler’s first season as a big league manager. Yes, the Phillies have dropped two of three, but that’s not a big deal. It’s early. What’s been terrible is the way he has managed his bullpen.
We talked already about how pitching-change happy he was in a game the Phillies seemingly had in hand on Opening Day. In game two of the series on Friday Kapler was getting his dugout-to-mound workouts in as well, using eight relievers to cover the final seven innings in the Phillies’ 11-inning win. Excessive? Yeah, but a win’s a win, right?
Yesterday, though, Kapler took things to a new level.
The minor issue is that, once again, Kapler went through bullpen arms like Kleenex, trotting out five more relievers in the nine inning blowout. Part of that can be excused by the fact that Phillies starter Vince Velasquez got his butt lit up, lasting only two and two-thirds. The major issue is what went down in the third inning when Kapler wanted to replace him.
Kapler walked out of the dugout and signaled for reliever Hoby Milner. The problem: Milner wasn’t warmed up yet. Indeed, he only took off his warmup jacket and started throwing the moment Kapler left the dugout. Milner nonetheless worked to get some warmup pitches in down there while Kapler stalled on the mound.
In today’s pace-of-play crazy game there’s a time limit for pitching changes, however — two-minutes and five seconds in locally televised games for the pitcher to complete his warmup tosses on the mound. It took Milner one minute and twenty seconds just to get to the mound after Kapler signaled for him and it was two minutes and forty-five seconds until he was done with his truncated on-the-mound warmup session.
About that warmup session: the umpires gave Milner five pitches instead of the standard eight. Braves manager Brian Snitker came out and beefed about him even getting the five due to the delay, but the umpires — wisely, I think — allowed him to because they did not want Milner getting hurt by throwing in game action while cold. Snitker beefed enough to get ejected. Later crew chief Jerry Layne strongly implied that he sympathized with Snitker — and that the Phillies bore the responsibility for the delay — but that he felt that he had to protect the pitcher. Good call.
Anyway, Milner pitched, didn’t do too well, and the game continued to be a laugher. So much of a laugher that, in the end, Kapler had to use outfielder Pedro Florimon to pitch the eighth inning. Florimon allowed two runs on a Lane Adams homer but otherwise ended the Braves’ day on offense. There were no issues with him warming up.
So, who was to blame for this? Gabe Kapler, of course, just as Jerry Layne implied. And he took responsibility, though he didn’t explicitly say, for example, that he forgot to have Milner warm up or didn’t realize he wasn’t warming up. He called it a “miscommunication.” In all, it was more of a “the buck stops here” taking of responsibility:
I take full responsibility . . . It’s a pretty good indication that I need to do a better job, and I will. I will continue to strive for excellence in that regard. Miscommunications are just simply unacceptable and no matter where they occur in our clubhouse or in our dugout or on our field, they are always my responsibility.”
That’s well and good, but the fact is that Kapler used 21 pitchers across 28 innings in the series. When asked, in general, about his bullpen usage, he said that he’s embarked on a usage of the bullpen designed “to keep them safe and strong.” He said “you can go back and look at the innings and how many pitches our guys have thrown and you’ll find we have kept them safe and strong.” Are you happy with that explanation, Phillies fans?
Kapler will get the benefit of the doubt on this stuff if, as the season wears on, his bullpen does, in fact, stay fresh and does contribute to a successful Phillies season. If the pitchers down there don’t get fried and if they don’t start grumbling about overwork or not knowing their role, as so often happens with bullpens when deployed unconventionally.
For now, though, it looks like managing for the sake of managing, with the exception of doing the one thing a manager has to do in the form of making sure your pitcher is ready to go into the game.