ATLANTA — The Phillies spent six weeks of spring training experimenting with new ideas. They challenged their players to try new positions. They batted their pitcher eighth. They used analytical information to position their outfielders with some dramatic shifts.
Each of those experiments left Gabe Kapler's Clearwater, Fla., laboratory and carried into the regular season. But the manager has yet to utilize the one experiment that seemed to draw the most attention. The Phillies often swapped their right and leftfielders this spring in the middle of an inning to have their better defender positioned where they expected a hitter to hit. The defenders would then return to their original places after the at-bat.
The swaps appeared seamless and made sense. But the Phillies have yet to try it in a regular-season game.
"It's something we have thought a lot about," Kapler said. "The strategic moves we make on the field are not in a vacuum. We know the strategic moves we make on the field also have some emotional impact. So we're just carefully examining all of those things all of the time."
And what is the emotional impact of switching outfielders for an at-bat?
"I'm going to use a different example because I don't want to speak to that directly," Kapler said. "But it we moved a guy from the three hole to the sixth hole, the first thing he's going to do is say 'I wonder why I'm in the sixth hole.' It might just be that someone profiles very nice for the three hole for that day. We're just examining the emotional impact of every decision we make. If we pull a reliever out of a game after facing two batters when he thought he should've faced the third batter that inning, there's an emotional impact even though the strategic advantage might be to have him just face those two hitters. In a vacuum, there's an emotional impact to that as well. So being sensitive and responsive to all of the emotional impact that our on-field decisions make is just the smart thing to do right now."
Cesar Hernandez was out of Monday's lineup, giving him his first day off this season and his second day in a row with a rest from playing the field after he was Sunday's designated hitter. Hernandez's leadoff spot was assumed by Scott Kingery, who Kapler said has the skills to work a deep count like Hernandez.
"Everybody knew he was going to be good. I'm not sure we knew he was going to be this good this early," Kapler said of Kingery. "The versatility has really stood out as impressive — both the lineup versatility and the ability to hit him anywhere in the lineup. And the ability to play him anywhere on the diamond."