Early hook of Aaron Nola gives Gabe Kapler, Phillies opening day to forget



ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler has nowhere to go but up from here. His first game as Phillies manager was a disaster. His extremely quick hook of his best pitcher backfired and a five-run lead turned into a demoralizing, 8-5, walk-off loss to the Atlanta Braves on Thursday night (see breakdown).

Oh, yeah, and two of Kapler’s players didn’t exactly agree with decisions he made. Odubel Herrera wasn’t happy to be left out of the starting lineup on opening day (see story) and Aaron Nola said he was surprised to be yanked from the game at 68 pitches.

“I had a good bit left,” Nola said.

Of course, he did. He had thrown 64 pitches in his final spring training start and was pretty much cruising — he had given up just three hits — when Kapler pulled him for lefty Hoby Milner with one out in the sixth and the Phils up 5-0. Kapler chose to have Milner instead of the right-hander Nola face lefty hitters Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. The decision went awry when Milner threw a full-count fastball and Freeman clouted it for a two-run homer to turn the game’s momentum.

The Phillies’ bullpen gave up seven of the eight runs that Atlanta scored, including three to tie the game in the eighth and three to lose the game in the ninth. Markakis won it for Atlanta with a three-run homer against Hector Neris with two outs in the ninth.

Kapler used five relievers and none were named Tommy Hunter or Pat Neshek. Hunter is on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Kapler revealed after the game that Neshek was unavailable because of a minor issue with his lat muscle. Hunter and Neshek were both free-agent additions to the ‘pen this winter.

“Look, we are all very competitive people,” Kapler said after the game. “It’s difficult to lose on opening day like that.”

Kapler said he pulled Nola "based on the confidence that there were other guys capable of getting the Atlanta hitters out and Milner, very specifically, for those two batters. Nola did a tremendous job. I told him as much when he came off the mound. He knows that he was spectacular tonight. I can’t wait to see him go out for his next start.

“Even with Hoby not retiring Freeman, we still had a strong chance to win that game. We were still very much positioned to win. And I would continue to bet on the arms in our bullpen to help us win games like that many more times.

“Tonight, the decisions didn’t work out in our favor.”

Throughout spring training, Kapler mentioned frequently his desire to keep players healthy for the long haul. That, along with confidence in his bullpen, figured into his decision to remove Nola.

But it was little solace to Nola.

Was he surprised to come out?

“Yeah, a little bit,” Nola said.

The pitcher said he did not try to talk Kapler into keeping him in the game. In fact, he did not receive an immediate explanation why he was lifted.

“You just want to go as long as you can,” he said. “When you’re a competitor, you feel like you can get guys out in any situation in any part of the game.

“It was a tough loss for the team. Guys aren’t giving up runs on purpose. We will come out tomorrow and battle again.”

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