Last night proved to be a beautiful night for baseball that started off strong but unfortunately ended in disappointment for the Phillies. After initially going up 6-1, Aaron Nola got roughed up in the seventh to the tune of two home-runs and three runs scored. One was unearned, but Nola has looked a bit shaky to start the season.
In 15.1 innings pitched, Nola has let up five home runs and walked eight. On the bright side, his pitch count hadn’t yet cracked 80 and Kapler opted to leave him in the game rather than use a pinch hitter in the sixth. Some will say he should’ve been taken out, but Nola would have been pitching the seventh with 75 pitches thrown last year. Ultimately, the fact that his pitch count is still way down is a huge takeaway. He’s certainly struggling with command right now but his work rate is what makes him unique as a pitcher. So long as he still works at Maddux speed, I have faith that he’s just working through a rough patch right now.
As for the offense, the Phillies continue to club the ball like an American League team and it is exciting to watch. Last night was my first visit to the ballpark this season and I gotta say that Harper’s three-run jack was an experience. After seven years of mediocrity, it was awesome to be giving random people in the crowd high fives and seeing Citizens Bank Park packed again.
Bullpen Management Was The Team’s Downfall
At the end of the day, however, Kapler’s bullpen management deserves to be questioned. Many have been clamoring for the club to go out and get Kimbrel but I personally do not see that as necessary. Will another arm or two be required come season’s end? Certainly, but that is a need that can easily be addressed at the trade deadline. Craig Kimbrel is too expensive, missed all of Spring Training and quite frankly isn’t needed.
David Robertson – despite his struggles in the first couple games- has extensive MLB closing experience and plenty of high stakes late inning work from his time with the Yankees. In addition to Robertson; Neshek, Nicasio, Ramos, Alvarez, Dominguez, Neris and the new and improved Adam Morgan is a solid bullpen to start the season with. There is also depth to draw from in AAA. Will the bullpen have some kinks? Sure, but on paper this bullpen should be fine.
The problem so far has been Gabe Kapler’s flip-flopping of rolls. Putting in Edubray Ramos to pitch the ninth is flat out silly. Hector Neris hasn’t looked like a late inning reliever in a couple seasons yet Kapler keeps putting him out there.
Neris is fine as a middle reliever, but not a late inning guy at this stage. I also believe that Kapler’s closer carousel could work, but to an extent.
It might not be a bad idea to keep teams guessing night in and night out. If rival clubs have to guess as to who’s closing, it could give the Phillies a tactical advantage. However, I think that there should at least be a distinction between late inning and middle relievers.
Putting in Edubray Ramos to pitch the ninth makes no sense. Sure, he’s pitched in late innings somewhat before; but that was on Phillies teams that were going nowhere. Now that the Phillies are contenders and have guys like David Robertson, they should be pitching in high leverage situations. If Kapler wanted to have a short list of guys who could close, such as Robertson, Neshek, maybe Seranthony and even Adam Morgan depending on the situation, I would be alright with that.
What doesn’t make sense is the idea that just anybody can pitch the ninth. There clearly is something that great closers such as Kimbrel, Hoffman and Rivera have that gives them an edge over their peers. Do random players go on runs as a closer? Sure, just look at Jeanmar Gomez. On contending teams? It doesn’t work. The late inning roles have some semblance of normalcy and a guy who typically pitches in the fifth isn’t going to be closing.
Things Are Still Going Very Well, So Don’t Take This As Me Flipping Out
That said, the Phillies are still off to a great start and I have full confidence in Gabe Kapler. It’s early and would be downright silly at any point in the year to blame the manager for a 6-1 lead blown by your ace. Kapler has also shown leadership qualities in that he sticks to his philosophies despite criticism from the media. Gabe Kapler is a major league manager for a reason and most writers – myself included – don’t have MLB experience.
I just think that Gabe might be trying to outsmart himself on this one. The idea of having 2-3 capable ninth inning guys is very entertaining and I’d like to see it continue, just with some parameters.
The rubber match of the Phillies-Nats series starts at 7:05 on NBCSN Philly.