ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler signaled to the bullpen in the third inning of Saturday night's 15-2 loss to the Braves and called for a reliever who had yet to even throw a pitch.
Hoby Milner, being pushed into action for the third-straight game, hurried to warm up. The lefthander threw a few quick pitches and jogged out of the bullpen, finally meeting Kapler on the mound. It was a miscommunication, Kapler said. Crew chief Jerry Layne said Milner was still wearing a jacket when Kapler called for him to go in. The second loss of the Kapler Era was marred by a glaring oversight.
"It's a pretty good indication that I need to do a better job and I will," Kapler said. "One of the things I pride myself on is being an excellent communicator and I will continue to strive for excellence in that regard. Miscommunications are just simply unacceptable and no matter where they occur in our clubhouse or in our dugout or on our field, they are always my responsibility."
Kapler, after lifting Vince Velasquez, seemed to delay Milner's arrival and give him some additional time in the bullpen. Milner would not reach the mound for another 90 seconds. Braves manager Brian Snitker barked from the dugout and would later be ejected. Freddie Freeman waved his hands in disgust as he waited on-deck. Once Milner arrived, the umpires met him and told him he would be limited to five warm-up pitches instead of eight because he took too long to reach the mound.
"He just wasn't ready. He hadn't thrown a pitch," Layne said. "Umpire Greg Gibson went out there and indicated that he deducted three pitches from the man. The last thing I want to do is get somebody hurt. It's already a messed-up situation. He's getting five when he got onto the mound. And Brian thought he shouldn't have any. I said, 'Brian, I'm not going to get somebody hurt.'"
"This will be reported to Major League Baseball. They'll have to deal with it," Layne said. "But I am not going to be the judge out here, right now, placing a penalty on somebody that jeopardizes their health…There's nothing I can do about it other than report it. I can't let somebody get hurt. Whoever is at fault for not doing their job on the Phillies side should have to answer to Major League Baseball."
Kapler relied heavily this series on his bullpen, using the relievers so rapidly that he had to call on utilityman Pedro Florimon to pitch Friday's eighth inning. Kapler changed pitchers 18 times as the Phillies dropped two of the season's first three games. The manager said he uses the bullpen to be "safe and strong." Milner, the first reliever used in all three games, told Kapler that he was able to pitch Saturday. He was asked afterwards if he felt safe despite entering the game with little time to warm up.
"I was healthy going into the game. I'm healthy now. I feel fine," Milner said. "I wasn't sore going into today. I told him I was ready to go. It was just a miscommunication that I didn't get as many warm-up pitches that would be ideal. … Fortunately enough I'm the kind of guy that can throw eight pitches and be fine."
Kapler used five relievers on Friday and relied on his bullpen for 15 2/3 innings in the first three games of the season. The Phillies had Florimon throw a few bullpen sessions during spring training and Kapler said it will not be the last time they use a position player to pitch. The 31-year-old infielder/outfielder reached 88 mph and gave up a two-run homer to Lane Adams. He wasn't even the Phillies worst pitcher.
"I'm here for everything they need," Florimon said. "I'm a utility guy. You have to get ready for whatever happens."
Kapler had to turn so early to his bullpen because Vince Velasquez burnt through 69 pitches to record just eight outs. The righthander, who will start Thursday in the home opener, was marred in his first start by the high pitch counts that have troubled him the last two seasons. He allowed seven runs, four of which were earned, in 2 2/3 innings. He struck out four, walked two, and allowed nine hits.
Milner, despite not being warmed up, pitched fine. He jammed Freddie Freeman with an inside fastball but the grounder was misplayed at third by Maikel Franco. He then forced Nick Markakis to pop up to left by Rhys Hoskins could not get there in time. The ball dropped in and two runs scored.
The bullpen roulette continued. Jake Thompson followed Milner but was only able to pitch two innings on a night the Phillies needed more. He allowed six hits and five runs, four of which were earned. The rout was on. Yacksel Rios pitched the sixth and Victor Arano handled the seventh.
The Phillies spotted Velasquez a 2-0 lead behind a single from Rhys Hoskins, who has driven in a run in each of the first three games, and an RBI from Aaron Altherr. Scott Kingery had two hits as he started his career with multiple hits in his first two games. That early lead was quick to fade away. The Phillies were trailing an inning later. And then they were down by three. That is when Kapler called to the bullpen for a pitcher that was not quite ready and a miserable loss had an unfortunate moment.
"I feel two ways," Kapler said. "First, it always stings to lose. It always stings to lose two out of three. You don't ever want to lose one game, let alone a series. On the flip side, I would also convey that I'm keeping the longview in mind and that this is not about three games, this is not about one game. It's about 162 games and a postseason. And I won't come off that position because it's what I believe in my heart. I believe it strongly."