The irony of the resounding boos at Citizens Bank Park that rained down on Gabe Kapler as he went to the mound to make a pitching change Thursday afternoon was this: The Phillies rookie manager was about to make his brightest move of the season.
As soon as Nick Pivetta retired Starlin Castro for the second out of the inning, Kapler popped up from the top step of the home dugout and headed to the mound. Before the manager got there, he was bombarded by taunts from a crowd that wanted to see Pivetta at least finish the inning.
It is still fresh in the minds of Phillies fans that Kapler made a somewhat similar move in the season opener down in Atlanta and watched a 5-0 lead dissolve into an 8-5 loss. But this move, with the Phillies only ahead, 3-0, and Pivetta at 97 pitches, was quite a bit different for a number of reasons. Aaron Nola, the opening-day starter, was only at 68 pitches against the Braves in Atlanta and he is also a lot more established pitcher than Pivetta.
The other major difference: Kapler was calling in lefthander Adam Morgan from the bullpen and any time he does that there's a great chance that outs are about to happen. The manager gave a great answer when asked about the less-than-impressive numbers regarding the sixth-inning matchup between Miami's Justin Bour and Morgan. Bour, a power-hitting first baseman who slugged 25 home runs in 108 games last season, was 3 for 6 in his career against Morgan.
"In this particular case, Adam is one of our guys that we're going to depend on," Kapler said. "We're going to depend on him in high-leverage situations. The other thing I point to is he was sort of a different pitcher in the second half of last season than he was before. We're thinking about Adam Morgan from the middle of the season last year on and from then on he has been pretty damn good across the board. So we're depending on him as a guy who can go and get [hitters from] both sides of the plate and can beat some of the opposition's best hitters."
Morgan needed just three pitches to strike out Bour, then followed that up with a perfect seventh inning. As for Bour's three hits off Morgan, they came in 2015 and 2016 when the 28-year-old lefty was still a starting pitcher trying to prove he belonged in the big leagues. A year ago at this time Morgan was a reliever unsure about his future in the big leagues. That Adam Morgan no longer exists.
"Last year in the second half I realized what I was capable of doing and I was conscious of how I was doing it, which I think was a really big step for me," Morgan said. "That allowed me to replicate what I was doing, so now when I watch video from beforehand, I know I'm different than that. The two videos are very distinguished."
So are the numbers. Through eight relief appearances last season, Morgan had allowed 24 hits, walked five and surrendered seven home runs in 14 2/3 innings. Opponents were hitting .364 against him and his ERA stood at 8.59.
"Obviously I think it's awesome that I'm here now still being able to play baseball because I felt like the game was kind of kicking me out," Morgan said. "It's cool and kind of awesome to find your niche in the game. It takes some guys longer than others to figure it out. I'm not saying I've figured it out, but I feel like I'm on the right path to figuring it out."
More proof of that came in the home opener. Morgan looked exactly like the lefty who posted a 2.48 ERA and struck out 47 batters in 40 innings during his final 29 games last season. In the process, he eased some of the pressure that led to those relentless boos aimed at his manager during the home opener.
Winning, Morgan said, will change everything.
"It's so early and there is so much that went on that it has kind of been a whirlwind," the pitcher said. "I feel like there was a lot of emphasis on that first game. Well, nobody is going to remember the first game the second half of the year. I think everything will be just fine and work itself out."
Adam Morgan was unsure he felt that way about himself a year ago at this time. But now he is a pitcher with supreme confidence and his manager has that same amount of confidence in him.