NEW YORK — The Phillies arrived in New York past midnight Sunday, providing plenty of time to pass before Tuesday's series opener against the Mets.
Odubel Herrera walked through a snowy Central Park. J.P. Crawford played with his husky. Rhys Hoskins did television interviews. Gabe Kapler reflected. The Phillies manager said he spent 48 hours trying to find ways to improve after a challenging start to his managerial career.
He evaluated how he used his bullpen in Atlanta, changing pitchers 18 times over three games. He spoke to Hoby Milner, who entered Saturday night's game without warming up, and members of his coaching staff. He thought about his decision to remove Aaron Nola after 68 pitches on opening day.
The Phillies lost two of their first three games and the manager said it gave him an opportunity to "think about the areas that I need to improve as a manager." So Kapler started writing.
"When we all sit back and look at our own processes and our practices, I think it's good sometimes to get things down for ourselves. Just address the areas where we can get better," Kapler said. "One of the ways to do that is to sit down and put it down on paper. So I just spent the last 48 hours putting a lot of my own thoughts down on paper of how we can be better. Then sharing that information with various people in this clubhouse and sharing that information with people that I really trust in our front office and learning as much as we can."
The way the Phillies used their bullpen in the first three games cannot continue, Kapler said. The team entered the season with nine relievers and two built-in off days in the first nine days. The Phillies had the luxury to play matchups and rely heavily on their bullpen. But Friday begins a stretch of 15 games in 16 days. And they will shed a reliever this weekend when Jake Arrieta is added to the roster.
Kapler, in his writings, detailed how the Phillies would use their bullpen moving forward. Things will have to change, Kapler said. He has to find ways to still be creative but "really respect the arms and keep people healthy and strong." It is the manager's new challenge.
"I always challenge myself and I think all of us in this room challenge ourselves to be better based on what happened," Kapler said. "This is an opportunity to think about the areas where we need to improve as a group and it's given me an opportunity to think about the areas that I need to improve as a manager, so I've actually found it very challenging. Any way you look at it, this has been very challenging and there's been some sting to losing a couple baseball games. There's been some difficult moments and there's also been a lot of opportunities to learn."
Major League Baseball reached out to Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak after the crew chief from Saturday's game filed a complaint when the game was delayed and Milner entered cold. Kapler said he did not know that Milner had not warmed up when the manager handed him the ball on the mound. Kapler said he believed Milner is one of the team's quickest pitchers to get ready and "was in a healthy spot." Milner had not warmed up because of a "communication error." Kapler took responsibility for it.
General manager Matt Klentak said it was a mistake. When you hire a rookie manager, Klentak said, a learning curve can be expected. And the first games of that rookie manager's career will be heavily scrutinized. It was time to move on, Klentak said. He flew from Atlanta to New York on the team's charter with president Andy MacPhail. They talked about what happened in Atlanta, reflecting just like Kapler would. And they determined that "three games do not make a season."
"Three games, as challenging as they may have been, are not going to undo all of the positives that have occurred over the last six months, both on and off the field," Klentak said. "Most of you were around spring training all spring and saw a lot of those positives, players and energy level and environment and many other things. And there is nothing that is going to happen in three games that is going to change that."