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Years since a Phillies catcher batted leadoff before Andrew Knapp did so Sunday

Phillies Notebook: Early test for Kapler

Posted by Eric Fisher On April 10

Winning is the best deodorant. But winning a series against the lowly Marlins and a series opener over the Reds, who are tied for the fewest wins (2) in the majors during this young season, isn’t enough to erase the scent of dissent emanating from first-year manager Gabe Kapler’s moves during the first week of the season.

Kapler’s unorthodox approach didn’t end with spring training. He moved players, such as Scott Kingery, all over the field. He started Andrew Knapp at catcher the first two games instead of Jorge Alfaro. He removed opening day starter Aaron Nola after 68 pitches. Perhaps worst of all, Kapler made a pitching change, calling for reliever Hoby Milner, even though no reliever had been told to warm up.

Failing to have a reliever warming up drew the ire of an umpire and Major League Baseball. Fans questioned Kapler’s qualifications to be manager and booed him during the home opener last Thursday.

What truly matters, however, is what the players think. In my “5 things that could go right or wrong” lists just before the season started, I cited “Kapler’s energy and infectious attitude can’t hide the fact that the rookie manager’s bold decision-making often leads to unwanted results, leading to a lack of trust and confidence from his players” as one of the things that could go wrong.

It didn’t take long for Kapler to be put to the test. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports quoted an anonymous Phillie of saying “We just need the manager to get out of the way” when talking about the team’s poor first week. And then second-year outfielder Nick Williams, after starting just two of the first six games, said, “I guess the computers are making (the lineup).”

Williams initially said he wasn’t complaining. Laster, he said he was joking and the quote was taken out of context before finally apologizing.

Having to deal with this type of issue one week into his managing career isn’t a good sign. It’s obvious that Kapler has a long way to go to earn the complete trust and confidence of his players.

But Williams’ comments indicate another potential problem. Perhaps the players don’t trust – or perhaps understand – analytics. If players don’t understand why they’re not playing, it could lead to confusion and misunderstandings.

The problem is the Phillies are invested in analytics. They’ve hired people solely to put analytics into practice. Even if Kapler wanted to disregard analytics when making out his lineup, could he do it?

Kapler’s belief in analytics is one reason why he was hired. But, if the manager’s moves don’t make sense to the players, the moved had better work or else their faith will disappear. The fact that Kapler doesn’t have a track record of success – or any kind of track record at all – is yet another hurdle he will have to overcome.

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BY THE NUMBERS: The Phillies scored one more run during their 20-1 destruction of the Marlins on Saturday than they had scored in their previous six games combined.

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POWER SURGE: Maikel Franco produced 10 RBI during wins over the Marlins on Thursday and Saturday. He had six RBI on Saturday, including a first-inning grand slam. The question with Franco is whether he will sustain his success or revert to the up-and-down performance of the past two seasons.

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FAST START: Rhys Hoskins apparently wants to quickly squelch any thoughts that he’s a flash in the pan. Through Monday’s 6-5 victory over the Reds, Hoskins is batting .429 with two home runs, five doubles and nine RBI. Hoskins also has walked eight times.

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SLOW START: Shortstop J.P. Crawford had just one hit in 23 at-bats. Maybe trading away Freddy Galvis wasn’t such a great idea.

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VELASQUEZ STRUGGLES: Overshadowed by the 20 runs Saturday night was that Vince Velasquez still hasn’t learned how to pitch. Velasquez threw 53 pitches during the first two innings. He went to a full count against 6 of the first 10 batters he faced, including the opposing pitcher, who was trying to execute a sacrifice bunt.

Keep in mind that Velasquez was running up his pitch count even though he had been staked to an early lead by Maikel Franco’s grand slam in the first inning. Sometimes it seems as if Velasquez might never figure out how to pitch well enough to last beyond the fifth inning.

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ERROR MESSAGE: Phillies catchers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro have five errors after eight games. That’s a ridiculous pace. The errors have come on passed balls, throwing errors and catcher’s interference, so there’s not one easy solution to their problems.

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HIGH EXPECTATIONS: The expectations for pitcher Jake Arrieta, signed to a three-year, $75 million contract are high. Perhaps they’re too high – at least for the early portion of the season. Because he signed with the Phillies in the middle of spring training, Arrieta hasn’t had time to round into form. April is almost like spring training for him.

In his season debut on Sunday, Arrieta gave up 3 runs in the first inning. He left after four innings. That’s not what anyone wants to see, but fans need to be patient with Arrieta as he tries to regain his old form.

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FITTING TRIBUTE: Eagles head coach Doug Pederson made a wonderful tribute to Roy Halladay by wearing his jersey as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch Thursday before the Phillies’ home opener. The Phillies will induct Halladay, who died in a plane crash in November, into their Wall of Fame on Aug. 4.

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LOOKAHEAD: After the Phillies finish their series with the visiting Reds on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and Wednesday (7 p.m.), they get a day off Thursday before beginning a six-game road trip Friday (7:10 p.m.) against the Rays. They’ll face the Rays again on Saturday (6:10 p.m.) and Sunday (1:10 p.m.) before making their second visit to Atlanta for games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (all at 7:30 p.m.). Entering Tuesday’s action, the Reds and Rays have combined for four wins (two apiece).

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