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Gabe Kapler: A tale of two starts

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Gabe Kapler’s second Opening Day went a lot better than his first.

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at New York Yankees Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Phillies’ opening day beat down of the Atlanta Braves was hopefully a glimpse at what’s to come over the next six months. Andrew McCutchen, Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco all homered.

Aside from a rough second inning, Aaron Nola was dazzling, as always. Jean Segura out-hustled what could have been an easy ground-out and Bryce Harper was intimidating enough that the Braves decided they wanted to face Hoskins with the bases loaded and no outs instead of pitch to him (Spoiler alert: That strategy didn’t work out for them.)

But the person on the Phillies who might have been the most improved since 2018 was Gabe Kapler. Last season, Kapler came under fire early for the way he handled his pitching staff, specifically Aaron Nola. He pulled Nola after just five innings in the first game of the season and followed that up by pulling him again after just five and a third in his next start. In both games, Nola had less than 90 pitches and could have easily continued to pitch.

Tabbed as the opening day starter once again for 2019, Nola came out exactly as we expected from the staff ace. In five out of six innings he showcased impressive command of his fastball and off-speed pitches that were just downright filthy. He ran into brief trouble in the second, though, walking three batters. Nola rarely walks three batters in an entire game, let alone in one inning. But he managed to get out of the jam allowing only one run. He bounced back in the third to prove why he was a Cy Young finalist in 2018 and is already back in the predictions for the award in 2019.

If this was the 2018 version of the Philadelphia Phillies, Gabe Kapler may have panicked in the second or, minimally, would have pinch hit for Nola in the bottom of the fourth and given the game over to the bullpen. Who knows what would have happened from there? Fortunately, this isn’t the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies anymore. Not only has the talent level on the field significantly improved, but it looks as though the management has improved as well. At least, as far as we can tell from the first game.

Despite the shaky second inning and a higher pitch count than desired, Kapler chose to leave the ball in Nola’s capable hand. It may seem like a no-brainer decision that isn’t worth talking about, but then again it was a no-brainer to leave Nola in on Opening Day last year as well. This Phillies team has immense potential to not only succeed in the regular season, but to surprise some people in the playoffs as well. The talent is certainly there to win a bunch of baseball games.

The biggest key for the season, though, is going to be how this team is managed. No manager will ever make the right decisions all the time through 162 games, but if Kapler’s performance on Opening Day is anything to go off of, this new and improved roster has an upgraded manager as well.

Let’s just hope it stays that way.