Over-managing Or Confidence Building? Gabe Kapler Explains Bullpen Usage

BALTIMORE - Phillies fans were well represented in the rain-soaked crowd, generously announced at 29,706, Wednesday afternoon at Camden Yards.

You could tell by all the red Phillies jerseys in the seats.

And the handful of E-A-G-L-E-S chants that were sounded throughout the afternoon.

Oh, yeah, and you could tell from the very noticeable boos that accompanied manager Gabe Kapler's decision to remove Edubray Ramos after six dominant pitches and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of what ended up as a 4-1 Phillies' win over the Baltimore Orioles (see first take).

Seconds after Ramos fanned Mark Trumbo on a sharp slider, Kapler popped out of the dugout and sauntered to the mound. He raised his right hand to bring Hector Neris into the game to face lefty slugger Chris Davis.

As Kapler took the ball from Ramos, Phillies fans booed.

They sounded off again when Neris began his trot in from the bullpen.

Clearly, they had not forgotten Neris' blown save Friday night against the Mets, nor the one he had five days earlier in Washington. Without those two ninth-inning blown saves, the Phillies would be sitting on a nine-game winning streak.

Neris quickly turned the boos into cheers. He fell behind Davis 2-0 before going fastball-splitter-splitter to retire Davis on a ground ball to second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who, by the way, had a huge game with a homer, a triple and two runs scored (see story).

Some might view Kapler's decision to remove a dominant Ramos with no one on base and one out from registering a save as a classic case of over-managing.

But Kapler had his reasons.

Since spring training, Kapler has said he would run his late-game bullpen based on matchups. In fact, he has never named a closer, though Neris, at least before his struggles last week, had gotten the bulk of the reps when the team had a lead in the ninth. Kapler said he went to Neris because he liked the way his splitter - which can tumble down and away from a lefty hitter - would play against Davis' left-handed power bat.

"Hector matched up beautifully with Chris Davis," Kapler said.

But there was more to Kapler's decision to go to Neris. He wanted to give the right-hander an opportunity to restore some confidence.

"We wanted to bring him in and give him an opportunity to finish the game for us like we knew he could," Kapler said. "One of the things we've maintained from spring training is we're going to put our players in the best positions to have success. There are times when we want to instill confidence. One of the ways we can instill confidence is by matching our guys up effectively. It's not always going to work out that way. Obviously, they're going to get beat sometimes by the competition where they match up well.

"But in this particular case, I thought Ramos matched up good against the righties and Neris matched up good against the lefties. More importantly, we had confidence in all of them. Had we left Ramos out there to finish the inning, we thought he would have done a great job. But we liked Hector there because of the split. When it's on, it's tremendous, as we saw today.

"We liked Ramos' slider against two right-handed hitters. So he walks out of here feeling like a million bucks. Who else is going to feel like a million bucks? Hector Neris. He just got a huge out for us. It's not always going to work out like this. But this is what we believe, putting our pitchers in the best positions to have success." 

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