Maikel Franco returns to lineup, homers in Phillies' loss

Maikel Franco returns to lineup, homers in Phillies' loss

WASHINGTON — He had seen just seven pitches in his first four at-bats Friday night, his first time in the lineup since Monday, but Maikel Franco had another chance. He hacked at the first pitch in the ninth inning and fouled it. He took the next three for balls. Then, when Nationals reliever Shawn Kelley tried to throw a 92-mph fastball past Franco, he clobbered it for a three-run homer.

“I needed it,” Franco said. “I’m trying to find something right here. I’m glad I put good contact on it.”

The Phillies slammed three three-run homers and still lost, 11-10. They went to bed dreaming again about their young lineup. Rhys Hoskins homered for the first time in almost a week. Nick Williams stunned Max Scherzer with a homer in the first inning. J.P. Crawford collected his first extra-base hit and and RBI. It was not enough.

Agitated by his exile, Franco wanted to make an impression. Before the ninth, when he did not miss a mistake, he failed to gain traction.

The third baseman owns the worst on-base percentage (.279) among National League hitters with enough plate appearances to qualify. He stands to lose the most playing time this month to Crawford. And, still, there is a good chance Franco is standing at third when the Phillies begin the 2018 season.

“I absolutely believe in Maikel Franco’s future,” Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said before Friday’s game. “I think there’s too much talent there. He has the bat speed, the strength. His defense has taken a step forward. All the components are there for Maikel to still be a really good player.”

Franco turned 25 last month. The Phillies expected him to emerge as a middle-of-the-order piece. He has not applied the adjustments that Phillies coaches have stressed since last season.

They are not willing to concede Franco is what he is, with a .721 OPS in his first 1,582 big-league plate appearances. At least not yet.

“You have to make an adjustment,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “If you’re constantly making outs year after year, it behooves you to try something different instead of waiting for something good to happen.”

Not enough good things happened Friday night for the Phillies after Williams put them ahead, 3-0. The defense was porous. Michael A. Taylor scorched a Jake Thompson slider to center, right at Odubel Herrera. He broke in, then stopped. He jumped as high as he could. The ball sailed past his glove and to the wall. It was an inside-the-park grand slam for Taylor, and the Nationals never trailed after that.

Franco will need more than one good swing. He flied out in the first inning. He singled in the third inning on a swinging bunt. He bounced into a double play in the sixth inning. He tapped one back to the pitcher in the seventh inning. He committed a fielding error.

When he puts the first pitch in play, good things tend to happen. But too often Franco swings and misses or fouls it. So he is behind in the count. That is part of the reason why Franco, according to Major League Baseball’s pitch data, has seen the third-fewest fastballs among qualified NL hitters this season. The Phillies have explained that to Franco, but he still looks for fastballs in fastball counts.

“I’ve said it all along: I can’t teach you how to ride a bike,” Mackanin said. “I can tell you where to hold your hands and pedal. But you have to feel it. You have to feel what you’re doing wrong.”

Franco tries to pull most pitches. That is on every opposing team’s scouting report: Do not throw Franco a fastball inside. He will hit it.

But the Phillies are not alone in their optimism; scouts from rival clubs have noted Franco’s exceptional bat speed and improved defense at third. It is hard to envision the Phillies trading Franco this winter because his value is at its lowest.

Franco, in interviews earlier this week, said it was “tough” to be relegated to the bench. Behind the scenes, Franco was upset. That is a good thing; the Phillies would be concerned if a player was not angered by losing at-bats.

They want him to do something about it.

“What the future holds next year and beyond for Maikel, the rest of the infield and how that plays out, we have time to figure that out,” Klentak said. “By no means have we given up on Maikel Franco or lost confidence in him.”

‘Pigs lose, series tied

​LHP Elniery Garcia gave up four earned runs in five innings as Lehigh Valley fell to Scranton, 4-2. The International League semifinal series is tied  1-1. The final three games of the best-of-five move to Scranton starting Saturday.SS Angelo Mora had three singles and an RBI for the IronPigs.Lehigh Valley took a thrilling Game 1 on Thursday night when Carlos Tocci singled in the game-winner in the bottom of the 12th.

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Published at Sat, 09 Sep 2017 03:55:57 +0000

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