PHILADELPHIA — With the Phillies running out of chances to make a substantial playoff push, Gabe Kapler Tuesday made a ripple-causing lineup decision.
Two days after Maikel Franco clubbed an important home run in New York, and with rising prospect Adam Haseley beginning to play with consistency and confidence, Kapler camped Sean Rodriguez at third for what would be a 6-5 victory over the Atlanta Braves. That decision would shove Scott Kingery to center and leave Franco and Haseley benched.
By the third inning, Rodriguez had made two special defensive plays, while Kingery provided a highlight diving catch and an inside-the-park home run. So the manager’s instincts were validated, even if they were open for questioning.
“There’s no temptation to do anything other than try to win right now,” Kapler said. “That’s the most important thing. The only thing that matters right now is what’s best for the Philadelphia Phillies.”
The manager did, however, acknowledge Haseley’s recent progress.
“I guess the flip side of that is what’s best for the Philadelphia Phillies is to continue to develop Adam Haseley,” he said. “But I will say this: Whether or not you believe that the way we handled Scott Kingery last year was the right way for his development, it’s hard to argue with him making huge strides this year and being a really important part of this franchise’s future.
“We put him in some tough spots last year. We didn’t give him every single opportunity. We pinch-hit for him in situations that might not have felt good to him. We moved him around the diamond. We changed his lineup positions. And he came back this year and has kicked (butt). I think that experience is worth considering as a good part of a development for a young player.”
More than once, Franco has been demoted to the minors this season while Rodriguez has remained with the Phillies. Kapler’s short-version explanation was that Rodriguez profiled better as a bench player for his ability to play multiple positions.
In a critical game Tuesday, Kapler felt Rodriguez was entitled to start at third against Atlanta lefty Max Fried at Franco’s expense.
“One of the things that we’ve discussed is Maikey’s performance against left-handed pitching,” Kapler said. “He just hasn’t had a whole lot of success over the last couple of years against lefties. And Sean has shown the ability to get on base. He doesn’t have a high average, but he has gotten on base and hit for power and has played a pretty good defense for us.”
Franco was hitting .234 against left-handed pitching this season and .231 in his career.
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Even if Seranthony Dominguez doesn’t recover from an elbow injury until after his Sept. 20 worst-case target date, the Phillies would not be hesitant to work him into the bullpen mix.
“What if it comes down to the last day of the season and he’s available?” Kapler said. “At that point, you evaluate him against all the options that you have. I’m happy to speculate about what might happen in the last couple days of the season. But I don’t see any reason to not let him go through his throwing progression.”
At the minimum, a late-season glimpse of Dominguez could affect the Phillies’ offseason plans.
“As long as there is no risk, it would just be getting more information to get better decisions,” Kapler said. “So I don’t see why we wouldn’t have those conversations.”
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Kingery’s home run hit the top of the center field fence and bounced back into play to the apparent confusion of Ronald Acuna Jr.
“We talked since spring training how important sharp turns around the bases were and how important it is to hustle out of the batter’s box on any ball,” Kapler said. “And we weren’t sure if it was a home run. Kingery wasn’t sure if it was a home run. Acuna wasn’t sure if it was a home run. And he never stopped running. And that’s why he walked away with an inside-the-park home run, one of the more exciting plays we’ve seen all year.”
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Jason Vargas sputtered through three innings, allowing six hits. But the Phils received bullpen excellence from Nick Vincent, Blake Parker, Ranger Suarez, Jared Hughes and Hector Neris.
Kapler: “That’s a very difficult lineup to navigate through six innings and our bullpen did a tremendous job. Blake Parker is easy to point you with four strikeouts in a couple of innings of work. Those guys were exhausted today. And Neris was excellent in the ninth.”
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NOTES >> Zach Eflin (8-11, 4.31 ERA) and left-handed Dallas Keuchel (7-5, 3.47) will pitch Wednesday night at 7:05. … The Phils had three home runs in the first inning (J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper, Corey Dickerson) for the first time since July 6, 2009, when Shane Victorino, Gregg Dobbs and Chase Utley jumped on Cincinnati.