If it’s true you only get one chance to make a good first impression, the Phillies new manager is in a heap of trouble.
Gabe Kapler had the most disastrous debut this town has seen since Ricky Watters blurted, “For who, for what?” after short-arming a pass in the Eagles 1995 opener. Kapler’s misfeasance with the Phillies bullpen and general sense of confusion was obvious to even the most casual observers.
● On Opening Day in Atlanta, he yanked Aaron Nola, who was cruising with a shutout, after just 68 pitches. The bullpen, which Kapler calls the strength of his team, blew a five-run lead and the game.
● On Saturday, Kapler waved for LH reliever Hoby Milner to enter – even though Milner was still wearing his jacket and hadn’t thrown a warmup pitch. That episode, which featured Kapler stalling on the mound, led to umpire Jerry Layne chastising the Phils and MLB sending a formal warning letter.
● Over the first three games, the manager summoned his bullpen a mind-boggling 18 times, including one call to utilityman Pedro Florimon. Those games lasted a combined 11 hours and 8 minutes.
After Saturday’s 15-2 catastrophe, Kapler delayed opening the clubhouse. Reporters surmised that the stall was so everyone could get their stories straight. Kapler only offered up, “I need to do a better job.”
Here we thought we were getting the Great Communicator and we landed Andy Reid, Jr. For a man so glib during interviews, Kapler seemed unable to articulate his in-game thought process.
Hey, it’s just three games, and I’m not ready to join any hashtag revolt to fire the guy. As I wrote here before, Charlie Manuel and Doug Pederson are proof that it’s foolish to condemn the new boss based on some early slips.
But it’s not too early to scratch your head and wonder if this Jack Lalanne wannabe is anything more than pecs, positive slogans and spreadsheets.
Kapler is a New Age manager relying more on VORPs and xFIPS than his six-pack gut. There’s nothing wrong with increased information, but so far it has only led to over-managing – as in pulling Nola because a forecasting model projected Milner as a better option to pitch to Freddie Freeman, who then homered, by the way.
Kapler seems as eager to make moves as an overcharged prom date. With a nine-man bullpen, he’s wearing a path from the dugout to the mound, making change after useless change.
And, despite the embarrassing start, he’s talking with great optimism. On Saturday he called himself “100 percent positive” and predicted his club makes the 2018 post-season.
That spin is geared more toward his young clubhouse than skeptical fans. There is no early evidence that Kapler is in danger of losing his players, some of whom look at him in awe. But, hey, raw as they may be, they’re not fools. The manager must prove to be competent or they’ll catch on.
As for the fans, Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who grew up 80 miles from Philadelphia and managed Kapler in Tampa, told the New York Times: “The cheesesteak guys aren’t going to dig (him) early on. Maybe the sushi people will be okay, but not the cheesesteaks. So he’s going to have to fight through that.”
The Phils have a three-game series in New York before Thursday’s home opener vs. the Marlins. A little winning streak against the Mets would ease concerns.
But if things continue as they have for the rookie manager, you can imagine the greeting the cheesesteak guys will give him during Opening Day introductions at Citizen’s Bank Park.