ATLANTA - The Phillies won four out of six games on their road trip through the South and manager Gabe Kapler was happy with that. He said so in word after Wednesday night's trip-ending, 7-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park (see first take). He said so in action in the eighth inning.
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"All in all, you go on the road and you go 4-2, you feel good coming home," Kapler said. "That's the biggest positive from this. We're going to go home stronger than when we left on this road trip. It's not an easy thing to do in baseball. I'm proud of our guys for doing that."
Kapler's satisfaction with the trip was evident even before the game ended. Lefty specialist Hoby Milner entered the game with one out in the eighth inning and the Phils down by two runs. His job, ostensibly, was to retire lefty hitters Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. He retired neither. Up came right-handed hitting Kurt Suzuki. The situation screamed for a right-hander but Kapler stuck with Milner and he allowed an RBI single as the Braves pulled away with three runs in the inning to salt the game away.
Entering the game, Milner had allowed a .375 batting average (21 for 56) to right-handed hitters and a .158 (12 for 76) average to lefty hitters for his career. Despite this, Kapler did not even have a right-hander up in the bullpen. In fact, no one was up. Kapler indicated that he had faith that Milner could get the job done.
But there was more to it, as well.
"At that point it was time to look, in part, to save our bullpen," Kapler said. "That was the right time to save our bullpen and put them in a good position to succeed going forward."
Kapler's thinking was not unheard of. Ask any manager and he'll tell you, some nights you have to give the bullpen a break, take one step back for the chance to take two forward in subsequent days, and that's just what Kapler did. After all, the ‘pen did pick up five innings the night before. But the flip side to this was the Phils were down only two runs with the middle of the order due up in the ninth. Keep the difference at two runs and maybe you can rally. Five runs - different story.
All this made one wonder if Kapler didn't believe his offense could pull it out in the ninth.
"We always have full confidence that the guy on the mound can get outs," Kapler said. "So this, at least, was as much about our belief in Hoby to be able to get outs in that situation, and, also, preserve arms in the bullpen. And, also, we believe in our offense to be able to come back and put a big number up. Always."
The Phils ended up scoring a run in the ninth, but it wasn't enough. Vince Velasquez gave up a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth when he allowed a walk, a single and a three-run homer to new Phillie killer Ryan Flaherty. The Braves were in control the rest of the way. They have beaten the Phillies in four of six meetings this season.