It is a scene no one could have imagined would play out after everything that happened on Opening Day.
Here was Nick Pivetta, the Phils’ 25-year-old right-hander making his third start of the season at 92 pitches after six effective innings of two-run ball against the hapless Cincinnati Reds. His team held a slim 2-1 lead, and there were plenty of reasons why Kapler could have removed Pivetta from the game right then and there.
Only, he didn’t. Pivetta went back out for the 7th inning and got the first two outs rather easily. But then, at 101 pitches, Kapler came out of the dugout. Surely, Pivetta’s night was over.
Only, it wasn’t. Kapler let Pivetta stay in the game, presumably for one last hitter, right-handed slugger Adam Duvall. Duvall has hit 64 home runs combined over the last two seasons, although he has struggled so far in 2018. A dinger would tie the game, and it’s certain that Kapler would be criticized for not getting Pivetta out of the game if the ball went out of the yard.
Only, it didn’t. Pivetta got Duvall to ground out for the third out of the inning, rewarding his manager’s faith in him by giving him seven strong innings in which he struck out seven, gave up two runs and allowed five hits in what would eventually be a series-sweeping 4-3 win in 12 innings.
Phils starters did this all week in taking five of six from the hapless Marlins and Reds. His ace, Aaron Nola, was allowed to bat in the bottom of the 7th of Tuesday’s game with 88 pitches already in the books and the Phillies holding a 2-1 lead. Kapler was rewarded for that faith as Nola finished the 8th with ease, retiring his last 10 hitters, and finishing the game with 103 pitches thrown in an eventual 6-1 victory.
After the game, Kapler said “That’s the feel for the game and that’s the gut that comes into this thing. He just looked good out there and it seemed like every inning he ran out to the mound he got stronger and this was the time we were going to ride him.”
In the series opener against the Marlins, Kapler left Pivetta in for the 6th inning of a game he led 3-0. Pivetta was nearing 90 pitches when Kapler removed him after 5.2 innings, showing faith in the stuff being featured by the young right-hander and giving him some more rope.
He was rewarded for making that correct call. The Phillies would go on to win 5-0.
There is something that happens with a team when a manager shows faith in his players, and his players come through. It’s a two-way street. A player can’t prove his manager’s trust is deserved if his manager doesn’t trust him in the first place. It’s what made the removal of Nola on Opening Day so bizarre — that Kapler trusted his bullpen more than he trusted his ace to pitch in the 6th inning of a game he led 5-0.
On this homestand, the rotation had Kapler’s back. In 36.1 innings, the starters had an ERA of 2.72, holding the Marlins and Reds to a .206/.254/.284 slash line. They gave up 12 runs (11 earned) in six games against two inferior opponents, which had the added benefit of making Kapler’s late-game bullpen decisions that much simpler. There was no need for multiple relievers to parade to the mound in a single inning, which, as a happy aside, made this homestand more aesthetically pleasing.
For everyone who was worried Kapler would have a quick hook with his starters all season, they should rest easier now. This week, the Phillies manager gave his starters some rope, and they, in turn, didn’t hang him with it.
On Episode 186 of “Hittin’ Season,” host John Stolnis talks about all this and is joined MLB.com’s Mike Petriello on why Carlos Santana is off to a great start, despite his numbers, by one of The Good Phight’s prospect gurus, Victor Filoromo, to preview the Phillies’ minor league season and talk about his five bold predictions for the team’s entire farm system.
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