Phillies Mailbag: J.P. Crawford's debut, ABs for Altherr, Franco expectations

Phillies Mailbag: J.P. Crawford's debut, ABs for Altherr, Franco expectations

Ahh, the final weekend before opening day.

Time to open up the ol' bag of mail for your pressing Phillies questions:

An interesting question. There were pretty high expectations last season for Aaron Altherr before he suffered the wrist injury early in spring training. Because wrist injuries tend to affect a hitter's swing, we can just act like 2016 never happened -- Altherr came back late in the season and played every day, but hit just .197 in 227 plate appearances.

But this is the same big, fast, athletic, powerful outfielder who slugged .489 in 2015 with 20 extra-base hits in just 161 PAs. He had a strong spring, hitting .297 with four home runs.

Marshall Harris and I asked Pete Mackanin about Altherr on the Measured Takes podcast Thursday and Mackanin's answer was simply that if Altherr hits, he'll play.

I think there will be ample opportunity for Altherr even though he enters the season as the Phillies' fourth outfielder. He could face a tough lefty instead of Michael Saunders. He could play left field with Howie Kendrick moving to second base when Cesar Hernandez needs a day off.

As for Stassi, I think his best chance at playing time will come at first base because he's a plus defender and bats from the opposite side of Tommy Joseph. It would be a good idea for the Phillies to get Stassi some starts against hard-throwing righties.

I think J.P. Crawford will be up this season, yes. The Phillies have to protect him on the 40-man roster after the season anyway, so he's likely to debut in September, if not before.

If Freddy Galvis goes down with an injury at any point, you'll probably see Crawford unless he's just in a bad funk at Triple A. 

But if/when Crawford comes up for good, I don't expect the Phillies to move him away from shortstop. He's a perennial top prospect and a lot of that value is tied to his premium defensive position. It's where the Phillies want him long term, so why mess around and move him somewhere else and potentially affect his growth?

Galvis is an elite defensive shortstop who deserves to play shortstop. Cesar Hernandez is a better hitter at second base. So if everything pans out -- Crawford makes it up, Hernandez doesn't take steps back -- either Hernandez or Galvis would probably have to be traded. Hernandez would have more value because his skills are more evident, but there are a lot of teams that could use Galvis. Shortstop is a thin position league-wide, and this guy hit 20 homers with Gold Glove defense last season. Yes, his .274 on-base percentage was as bad as it gets, but the defense and power are still more than most shortstops offer.

I don't see how they couldn't. Remember that at this time last year, Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph were unproven and Ryan Howard was clearly near the end, so Franco was the Phillies' only real power threat.

Franco started out hot, but by May 1 his batting average was around .250 and his on-base percentage around .300, and he barely inched up from that point forward. He swung out of his shoes a lot, gave away at-bats and, at times, didn't seem to be concentrating.

Good.

Last season showed Franco he has a lot of work to do. At an offensive position, it's not enough to have a .310 on-base percentage even if you're hitting 25 homers.

Mackanin likes the way Franco used the middle of the field this spring, and said that if he had that approach more last season, he could have turned more hanging sliders into extra-base hits.

With a well-respected veteran like Kendrick batting before him, Franco just seems less likely to give away at-bats. He'll have someone to answer to. With Saunders batting fourth or fifth, pitchers won't be able to shy away from Franco with runners in scoring position because there's just as much a chance for a homer from the two guys batting after him.

I'm not saying that the presence of Kendrick and Saunders alone will push Franco to reach his potential, but it will help. 

As far as Herrera ... I think he's pretty much immune to his surroundings, in a good way. He's such an energetic player and can do so much with the bat that he seems like he'd hit .290 whether he was leading off for a bad team or batting second or sixth for a good team.

Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph remains; Pedro Florimon starts in RF

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Tonight's lineup: Tommy Joseph remains; Pedro Florimon starts in RF

With Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr both on the disabled list, manager Pete Mackanin continues to stick with Tommy Joseph as the Phillies' everyday first basemen.

Joseph is in the lineup batting fifth for Wednesday night's game against the Marlins, with red-hot Rhys Hoskins batting third and playing left field. Hoskins, who shares the same natural position as Joseph, has made just two starts at first since his promotion to the bigs. 

After getting the day off in the Phils' win over the Giants on Sunday, Joseph began to climb out his dreadful 5 for 56 slump in Tuesday's doubleheader with a pair of home runs and three hits overall. Meanwhile, Hoskins continued his hot streak by blasting his sixth home run and bringing his average up to .244, a far cry from his 1 for 13 start.

In right field, Pedro Florimon will make his second start since being called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley. The 30-year-old utility man is 4 for 11 with four RBIs in five game appearances with the Phils. 

Behind the plate, Jorge Alfaro gets the start over Cameron Rupp, who hit a home run in his third straight game in the Phillies' first loss on Tuesday. In 33 plate appearances, Alfaro is hitting .333/.333/.424 with one home run and three RBIs.

Here is the Phils' full lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Pedro Florimon, RF
8. Jorge Alfaro, C
9. Mark Leiter Jr., P

And for the Marlins: 
1. Dee Gordon, 2B
2. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
3. Christian Yelich, CF
4. Marcell Ozuna, LF
5. J.T. Realmuto, C
6. Derek Dietrich, 3B
7. Tomas Telis, 1B
8. Miguel Rojas, SS
9. Justin Nicolino, P

For more on tonight's game, check out Tom Dougherty's game notes.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Putting Tuesday's nightmare behind them

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Putting Tuesday's nightmare behind them

Phillies (45-79) vs. Marlins (62-62)
7:05 p.m. on CSN/CSNPhilly.com and NBC Sports App; Pregame Live begins at 6:30.

Double the trouble and it wasn't pretty, but Tuesday's nightmare is over.

The Phillies move on.

Tonight, the Phillies continue their series with Miami at Citizens Bank Park.

Let's take a closer look at tonight's ballgame.

1. Leits out?
With Phillies manager Pete Mackanin using six relievers during Tuesday's doubleheader, the Phillies will need Mark Leiter Jr. to give them innings tonight against the Marlins.

Leiter makes his second straight start after finding success as a long reliever in the Phillies' bullpen. The rookie continues to be yanked between the 'pen to the rotation.

His last time out didn't go so well. Leiter allowed eight runs — four earned — on seven hits, two homers, three walks and just one strikeout in five innings against the Padres last Tuesday. He hasn't pitched past the fifth inning in his last three starts and has thrown more than 100 pitches just once in his first season in the big leagues.

Tonight will be Leiter's fourth appearance against the Marlins. He's 0-1 with a 19.29 ERA against Miami, allowing six runs — five earned — and walking four in 2 1/3 innings.

Leiter is 1-3 with a 4.38 ERA in 20 games this season. He has four starts and 16 relief appearances, including back-to-back long relief outings where he racked up 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings before being summoned back to the rotation last week in San Diego.

2. A little Rhys of heaven
Phillies fans got their first glimpse at home of a Rhys Hoskins homer during Game 1 of Tuesday's doubleheader. Hoskins smacked a two-run homer to center field in the first inning of the Phillies' 12-8 loss to the Marlins. It was his sixth homer of the season.

The last time the home fans saw him, Hoskins went 1 for 13 with four strikeouts and three walks in his first four major-league games from Aug. 10-13. Since then, he's become acclimated to the majors and has shown the power stroke he's shown in the minors.

Hoskins is just the seventh player and the first Phillie in the last 100 seasons with at least six homers in his first 12 games, according to ESPN Stats & Info. He became the first Phillie to hit four home runs in his first 10 games.

Since taking a .077 average out west last week, Hoskins has hit his way to a .244. He's carrying a .313 average over his last eight games into tonight's matchup. He has six homers and 10 RBIs during that span, with six walks and nine runs scored.

3. Phillie killer
Giancarlo Stanton is setting Marlins records this season. He broke the team's single-season record of 42 home runs and now has 46.

Is a major-league record (with an asterisk) next?

If he continues to face Phillies pitching, it sure seems possible Stanton reaches 62 homers this season, which would eclipse Roger Maris' 61 homers that he believes is the true MLB home run record. Stanton recently told the Sun Sentinel he doesn't count Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa's single-season home run totals as legit.

Regardless, Stanton has a shot at reaching 61. After clubbing another long ball Tuesday, Stanton is on pace to hit exactly 61 homers. In 41 games since July 5, the right-handed slugger is hitting .331 with 25 homers and 49 RBIs. Just three Phillies have more than 49 RBIs this season alone.

Stanton has dominated Phillies pitching, especially, this season. He's hitting .303 with six homers against the Phils in nine games. In his career, he has 25 homers against the Phillies — only the Mets has he tormented more over his career (33 career homers vs. New York).

Why the Phillies continue to pitch him is a question for Mackanin.

4. Players to watch …
Phillies: It's a safe bet Mackanin keeps Tommy Joseph in the lineup tonight despite struggles since the All-Star break. Joseph homered in each game of Tuesday's doubleheader and collected three hits in eight at-bats. Prior to Tuesday, Joseph was hitting .198 with one homer and 26 strikeouts in 121 at-bats since the ASB. He's 0 for 1 in two career plate appearances against Marlins starter Justin Nicolino.

Marlins: You'll be watching Stanton regardless. But also keep an eye out on Christian Yelich, who had five RBIs in Tuesday's doubleheader. He has seven RBIs in his last three games. The centerfielder is hitting .284 with 14 homers and 67 RBIs this season. He has a double in his only at-bat against Leiter.

5. This and that
• Hat tip to CSNPhilly producer Dan Roche: Tuesday's 12-8 loss in Game 1 was the first time the Phillies lost a game in which they hit five homers since June 29, 2010, against the Twins.

• The Marins are .500 for the first time since they were 10-10 on April 27.

• Nicolino will make his third straight start, which will be the first time he's done that in the majors in his career. The 25-year-old has allowed three runs in 10 1/3 innings over his last two starts.

• The Phillies recalled pitcher Drew Anderson from Triple A Lehigh Valley. To make room for the right-hander, the Phils optioned outfielder Cameron Perkins to Triple A.