After a Winter of Challenges, Gabe Kapler Wants to Focus on the Players

CLEARWATER, Fla. - A controversy stemming from his handling of a situation during his time as an official with the Los Angeles Dodgers put Gabe Kapler under the heat lamps recently.

But on the first day of his second season as Phillies manager Wednesday, Kapler put all the attention on his players.

"I addressed that situation publicly in detail," he said, referring to the 1,300-word response he authored after a Washington Post story questioned how he handled the reporting of an alleged assault in 2015. "This is a camp where I really want the attention and the focus to be on our players. So that's not a question I'm going to be addressing."

Kapler did concede that the offseason was a challenge.

Three months before the Post report, he lost his home in the wildfires around Malibu, California.

"There is no question that there were some challenges this offseason," he said. "The way I dealt with those challenges was to focus my attention on others. I think those lessons are applicable to us as a team. When you want to achieve something that matters, you can't do it on your own, you need to lean on others for support and you need to support those leaning on you. I think that's the way I approached this offseason, that's the way I'm going to approach spring training and that's how we will approach the season."

Kapler was pressed as to whether the situation involving the alleged 2015 assault would cause him a credibility issue in the clubhouse he now oversees.

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"We spent a lot of time this past offseason communicating," he said. "I communicated frequently with our players. I communicated frequently with our staff. We put a lot of processes and practices into play to enhance that communication and I think the way to address that best is through the actions that are coming up. I think that we're going to be able to see that the relationships in the clubhouse are intact and strong."

But there will be changes in the clubhouse.

Kapler was asked if there was one thing he would change in Year 2 and he did not hesitate with his answer.

"We're going to have some boundaries in the clubhouse that are a little bit stronger," he said. "Last year, I stressed that we wanted players to be able to be themselves and to be celebrated for who they were, and we're going to continue to stress that. At the same time, we're going to implement systems and processes and boundaries that make it clear that we are here to work every single day. Spring training is going to be the jumping-off point for that. Everything we do is going to have a higher level of intensity. Our attention to detail is going to be stronger. And there are going to be some boundaries put into place. Not that I'm going to implement a set of rules different from what we had last year, but I will say that we are going to raise the bar for the behavior across the board."

Kapler declined to give examples of where he will run a tighter ship.

"There's nothing specific that I can point to," he said. "I can just tell you that it's an area of emphasis for us."

Tighter ship. More emphasis on detail. These are understandable modifications considering what happened last season. The Phils were in first place, 15 games over .500, in early August. They lost 33 of their final 49 games and finished with their sixth straight losing season. In September, general manager Matt Klentak used the word "miserable" to describe the final weeks of the season.

Kapler has moved on.

"We're in spring training 2019," he said. "I'm not going to say I don't remember how difficult the end of 2018 was. We're just going to use it as motivation every single day. Not getting the job done, not completing the job, is incredible fuel to have better practices, to be more focused on the small details of the work that we do in spring training."

Kapler has more to work with in 2019. The Rhys Hoskins Outfield Experiment is over. He is back in his comfort zone at first base. Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, David Robertson and J.T. Realmuto - all proven talents - have been added and more could come in the form of a Manny Machado, a Bryce Harper, a Mike Moustakas, a Dallas Keuchel or a Craig Kimbrel. Yes, the Phillies are in on everybody in their quest to break a seven-year postseason drought.

With an improved roster comes heightened expectations and with heightened expectations comes more pressure on the manager.

Winning early and often will keep the focus where he wants it - on the players and not on him.

"I think it's important to continue to shine the light on the players that are here in camp," Kapler said. "We have an improved roster across the board. I think it's important that we get off to a good start because that's what's good for the Philadelphia Phillies. My focus, my attention, will always be on winning every night, putting our team in the best position to do so, and then coming back to do it all over again the next day."

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