Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

Phillies 6, Yankees 5: Maikel Franco, Rhys Hoskins, Brock Stassi shine with bats

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin assembled what will probably end up being his opening day lineup for Saturday’s spring home opener against the Yankees.

He liked what he saw.

Especially from cleanup man Maikel Franco.

Franco’s big challenge in becoming a more complete player is to improve his selectivity at the plate. The 24-year-old third baseman looked pretty good in that area in three at-bats.

Franco fell behind 0-2 in his first at-bat then battled back to a full count before popping out in the second inning.

He smacked a homer to left on a 2-2 slider in the fourth and then in the sixth, he stroked a first-pitch gapper to left-center that went for an inside-the-park homer. The ball got stuck under the padding on the outfield wall and the umpire did not rule it a ground-rule double.

“Hey, you see my speed?” the not-so-fleet-footed Franco said with a laugh after coming out of the game. “It’s like Cesar’s (Hernandez) speed.”

Mackanin liked the totality of Franco’s at-bats, not just the results.

“He had two long, deep-count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “He worked the count deep and that was good to see.”

There are many miles to go before opening day, and Franco still has many miles to cover before he’s the complete player he wants to be and the selective hitter the front office wants to build around.

Franco vowed to keep working on it under new hitting coach Matt Stairs.

“He told me my focus should be when I stay to the middle of the field, I'll have a lot of success,” Franco said. “I am trying to work on it and put focus on it. I talked to (Howie) Kendrick about hitting and he's helped me. I'm going to stay on it every single day. I'm trying to do my job, trying to do the best I can.

“When I stay in the middle, when I try to hit the ball up the middle, something is going to happen. That's what I want to do, what I want to keep doing.”

Franco hit .255 with 25 homers and 88 RBIs last season, but his on-base percentage was just .306.

He was asked whether he had any personal goals for the season.

“The first thing is to try to be healthy,” he said. “I just want to play in 162 games. Other than that, I'll just do everything I can do.

“Every single day I want to do my best and not try to force the situation. I think I can do better than last year. This year should be very good and much better than last year.”

The game 
The Phillies won it, 6-5, on a walk-off RBI single by Brock Stassi in the bottom of the ninth inning. The hit scored Rhys Hoskins, who had doubled. Hoskins drove a homer to deep center earlier in the game.

Hoskins, who turns 24 in March, has 55 homers and 206 RBIs the last two seasons. He will move to Triple A this season and play first base.

Stassi is a candidate to win a job on the bench (see story). He hasn’t hurt himself in the first two games. He homered Friday and had the game-winning hit Saturday.

“I’m feeling pretty good early on,” he said. “Gotta keep it going.”

Pitching in
Adam Morgan pitched two scoreless innings. Prospect Ricardo Pinto pitched a scoreless inning. It’s not out of the question that he transitions to the bullpen at some point this season.

Mark Appel showed his big stuff with three strikeouts in two innings of work, but his control problems also surfaced as he threw a wild pitch that resulted in two runs.

Up next
Probable opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson makes his spring debut Sunday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin.

Here is the Phillies’ posted lineup for that game:

1. Cameron Perkins CF
2. J.P. Crawford SS
3. Daniel Nava LF
4. Cameron Rupp DH 
5. Andres Blanco 2B
6. Dylan Cozens RF
7. Ryan Hanigan C
8. Brock Stassi 1B
9. Taylor Featherston 3B

Right-hander Joe Biagini will start for Toronto.

Jerad Eickhoff will start for the Phillies against Tampa Bay on Monday. Clay Buchholz will start against Baltimore on Tuesday. Both of those games are in Clearwater.

Phillies-Mariners 5 things: Aaron Nola hopes to avoid more interleague struggles

Phillies-Mariners 5 things: Aaron Nola hopes to avoid more interleague struggles

Phillies (24-51) at Mariners (39-39)
10:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

As the losses mount, as the run differential pushed past minus-100, as the season slogs on even though summer just arrived, the Phillies have no option but to keep banging against the wall until it starts to crack.

After dropping three of four in Arizona, the Phils head to Seattle for a two-game series against the .500 Mariners.

1. Can it get any worse?
Always a dangerous question to ask but with the Phillies right now it's relevant. At 24-51, they have the worst record through 75 games of any National League team in eight years.

They're on pace to finish 51-111, and in truth it could be even worse than that considering their most reliable hitter (Howie Kendrick) and reliever (Pat Neshek) will likely be gone by the July 31 trade deadline.

This is just such a blah team. They don't hit, they don't hit in important situations, no starting pitcher has gotten on an extended roll, the bullpen blows leads, outs are given away on the bases.

The harsh but honest truth is that it comes down to a lack of talent. Look at Monday's Phillies lineup — there were two starters hitting above .257. They just don't have guys other than Kendrick and maybe Daniel Nava who can consistently take advantage of mistake pitches. Even Aaron Altherr, having an impressive, breakout season, has left many a fastball right down the middle.

2. Awful with RISP
Through May 2, the Phillies were 12-12 and they ranked 13th in the majors in both batting average (.258) and slugging percentage (.438) with runners in scoring position.

Since then? Not only do they have the lowest batting average in the majors with RISP at .220, but they have the second-fewest opportunities. 

Over that span, the league average has been 505 plate appearances for a team with runners in scoring position. The Phillies have 424.

Odubel Herrera has hit .203 with runners in scoring position. Maikel Franco has hit .208. Altherr is at .250. Andrew Knapp and Michael Saunders (before he was released) are both below .150.

3. Nola feels like himself
Aaron Nola is coming off his best start of the season, 7⅓ innings of one-run ball against the Cardinals last Thursday.

Nola allowed just six baserunners, struck out eight, and threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 28 hitters. He had perhaps his best two-seam movement of the season, freezing Cardinal after Cardinal with a two-seamer that started off the plate and crossed right over the outside corner. Of his eight K's, five were looking.

Nola and manager Pete Mackanin both said after the game that Nola looked like he did when he first arrived in the majors (see story). If he's getting back to that version of himself, the Phillies will be more than satisfied with him over the second half of the season.

As mentioned above, the Phillies really haven't had a starting pitcher get on a roll this season. Jeremy Hellickson had a 1.80 ERA in April but that's it. Jerad Eickhoff hasn't reeled off three or four good starts in a row, nor has Nola, nor did Vince Velasquez or Zach Eflin. Nick Pivetta and Ben Lively have had some nice moments but they've been inconsistent as well.

The Phillies desperately need at least one starting pitcher to get into a groove. If not, they're going to head into the offseason not knowing how many rotation spots are even filled for 2018. There are more questions about this group of young pitchers now than there was a year ago.

In 10 starts this season, Nola is 4-5 with a 4.32 ERA. He's struck out 55 and walked 18 in 58⅓ innings and his opponents have hit .254.

He's been better away from Citizens Bank Park, posting a 3.82 ERA in six road starts. 

Lefties have hit .288 with an .810 OPS off Nola compared to .225 and .579 for righties. That's long been the case for him because his breaking ball is his best secondary pitch while the changeup has been a work in progress. His last time out, Nola threw four changeups to lefties and they swung through all four of them.

He's never faced the Mariners. In six interleague starts, Nola is 1-4 with a 7.71 ERA and 1.75 WHIP. 

4. If trends matter ...
... then the Phillies should be able to hit left-hander James Paxton tonight.

Paxton, Seattle's 28-year-old, oft-injured southpaw, is 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts. But after a great start to the season, he's allowed 15 runs in 13 innings his last three outings. 

When Paxton was cruising in April, he walked just six batters in 32⅓ innings and had four scoreless starts out of five. In his last six starts, he's walked 16. He's prone to high pitch counts because he misses bats, induces plenty of foul balls and can struggle with control.

Paxton throws heat. At 96.3 mph, his average fastball velocity is highest in the majors for a left-handed starting pitcher. He's thrown it 63 percent of the time.

Paxton goes mostly fastball, curveball, cutter. Typically a lefty will use the cutter against right-handed hitters to jam them, but Paxton actually throws it more to lefties, saving it for righties when he has two strikes.

Paxton faced the Phillies once back in 2014 and allowed four runs (one earned) and lasted just four innings. 

5. This and that
• Nelson Cruz is obviously one of the more dangerous power hitters in the game but he's in a big home run drought that's lasted 18 games and 78 plate appearances. He's hitting .291 with 14 homers, 58 RBIs and an .890 OPS.

• Remember when the M's came to Philly and Robinson Cano played through a quad injury and went 6 for 8 with two homers, a double and five RBIs? He went on the DL immediately after that series and missed two weeks. Since returning, he's hit just .261/.313/.410.

• Nick Pivetta's fastball velocity was down to an average of 93 mph Monday after hovering around 95 his last two starts. He also threw just three of 17 sliders and curveballs for strikes.

Despite buzz about promotion, Phillies prospect Scott Kingery remains calm

Despite buzz about promotion, Phillies prospect Scott Kingery remains calm

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — One look around spacious Coca-Cola Park told Scott Kingery one thing: This wasn’t Reading anymore, Toto.

“It looks like you can get one out to left,” the newest member of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs said late Monday afternoon, “but it looks real deep to center.”

It was time for the 23-year-old second baseman to recalibrate, time for one of the Phillies’ brightest prospects to get his bearings before continuing a climb that now finds him nearing the major-league summit.

Kingery, the Phils’ second-round pick in 2015, was promoted from Double A Reading on Sunday, after his torrid start attracted the attention of not only management but also a fanbase looking to latch onto something — anything — with the parent club struggling and regular second baseman Cesar Hernandez injured.

But everything in its time.

“I just try to block [the clamor] out the best I can,” Kingery said before making his Triple A debut against Pawtucket. “I know what I'm capable of and I know what I need to improve on. Wherever I'm at, I'm going to come out here and try to work on whatever I think I need to improve on and to give myself the best shot to get moved up.”

He went 1 for 5 with a steal and two spectacular defensive plays in the IronPigs’ 5-4, 10-inning loss on Monday night, after batting .313 with 18 homers and 44 RBIs in 69 games at Reading. And his one-day-at-a-time approach comes as no surprise to manager Dusty Wathan, who also had him late last season with the Fightin' Phils.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t change much,” Wathan said. “He’s really calm — not real high, not real low, much like (Lehigh Valley first baseman) Rhys Hoskins is.”

Wathan recalled Kingery’s struggles late last season — he wound up hitting .250 in 37 games for Reading, after moving up from Single A Clearwater — and how he handled it.

“You didn’t see the huge frustration or anything like that out of him,” the manager said. “I think he just embraced it and said this is what it is: ‘I’m a better player than this.’ He knew where he was at that time.”

Kingery was worn to a frazzle by season’s end — he lost 10 pounds, he said — and Wathan knew it. He nonetheless continued to play him “because,” the manager said, “I wanted him to feel that.”

“It's a good thing to have failure,” he added, “to feel that first season, to see how things end up for you.”

Kingery, listed at 5-10 and 180 pounds, said he gained back the 10 pounds he lost via offseason weight work, and that he tinkered with his swing as well. That contributed to his power surge after he managed just eight homers in 197 games over his first two minor-league seasons.

So too did the dimensions of FirstEnergy Stadium, Reading’s cozy home park.

“Everybody talks about the Reading factor, but to me it's probably only a couple home runs [each season],” Wathan said.

Kingery had 10 homers in 36 home games and eight in 33 on the road. He hit just one in his last 20 games at Reading, none in his last 11.

“I’m turning back into a singles guy,” he said.

But a hitter, to be sure. He batted .359 in his last 33 games at Double A to raise his average from .272 to .313. And on Sunday, he was summoned to the office of Reading manager Greg Legg, who delivered the good news.
 
Kingery’s dad, Tom, had already heard; he tried to call his son repeatedly. So too had some other relatives.

So there he was on Monday. He singled in his first at-bat, and twice victimized Pawtucket third baseman Matt Dominguez with the glove, making a diving catch of his second-inning flare to short right and then backhanding Dominguez’s grounder up the middle in the sixth.

The first gem made SportsCenter. As for Kingery, he just keeps making steady progress toward the summit.