Rest, Manuel spark red-hot Maikel Franco

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Rest, Manuel spark red-hot Maikel Franco

MINNEAPOLIS – No one thought it was going to come easy for Phillies prospect Maikel Franco right out of the gate this season.

Yes, he had a huge season in 2013 -- .320/31/103 -- but he was making the jump to Triple A after less than 300 plate appearances above the Single A level and he was still just 21 years old.

Conventional wisdom suggested the young third baseman from the Dominican Republic would take his lumps for a while and he did. He was hitting just .209 after an 0-for-5 performance on June 29. That’s when Dave Brundage and Sal Rende, the manager and hitting coach, respectively, for the Phillies’ Triple A Lehigh Valley club, suggested that Franco take a couple days off.

“They told me to just watch the game,” Franco said at Major League Baseball’s Futures Game on Sunday. “Relax. Relax your mind. It was good for me.”

Sure was.

Franco went 4 for 4 his first day back in the lineup and has been on a tear since.

He entered his second straight trip to the Futures Game, the Who’s Who event of elite baseball prospects, hitting .390 with a 1.126 OPS over a nine-game stretch. In that span, he had six doubles, three triples, one home run and 11 RBIs.

That’s the thunder Phillies officials came to expect last season.

“It was a little bit harder because you're facing really good pitchers,” Franco said of the jump to Triple A. “Some of those pitchers have played four years in the big leagues and come down here. For me, it’s a little bit harder.

“But everything is going good right now. I’m enjoying the games.”

Coming out of spring training, Phillies officials wanted Franco to work on shortening his stroke and using the middle of the diamond. One scout who has watched Franco this season said it was clear Franco was working on those adjustments in batting practice but he was inconsistent in taking them into games.

Lately, Franco’s swing has been coming around and that has led to the one thing all good hitters have …

“I’m feeling confident in my game,” he said.

Franco spoke glowingly about the tutoring he has received from Rende.

“He’s a good hitting coach,” Franco said.

Franco also revealed that his hot streak coincided with a visit from Charlie Manuel, the former Phillies manager who has gone back to his roots, quietly working with young hitting prospects.

“I enjoyed it,” Franco said. “Charlie was there for four days.”

Franco said Manuel made some suggestions on his stride and the positioning of his hands. Manuel also went to work on the area between Franco’s ears.

“He told me I was a good hitter and don’t feel pressure,” Franco said. “He told me to stay positive. It was good.”

Franco flied out to center field twice in Sunday’s Futures Game. His World team lost to the U.S. team, 3-2.

Now he returns to Lehigh Valley, looking to keep his hot streak alive. He hopes to produce well enough (and play well enough at third base) to get a look in Philadelphia in September. The Phillies could be deep into a retooling effort by then, so it might make some sense to let Franco get a taste of the majors -- provided he has a strong finish to his minor-league season.

Franco can also play first base. It is unclear which position he will play in the majors. If the Phillies could somehow move Ryan Howard after this season -- they’d have to eat a significant amount of the $60 million that would remain on his contract to make that happen -- Franco could be in play at first base next season. It’s also possible he would stay at third. Team officials have talked about the possibility of Cody Asche playing left field for a couple of years.

These are questions that will be answered down the road. For now, Franco just needs to keep playing and swinging the bat as well as he has recently.

“I would love to come up in September, why not?” Franco said. “That’s where I want to be. Hopefully I will be ready.

“My plan is to stay true, keep working hard, and have fun. We'll see what happens.”

Phillies' offense sinks even lower in 9th straight loss to Nationals

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Phillies' offense sinks even lower in 9th straight loss to Nationals

BOX SCORE

Four … three … two …
 
Good thing the Phillies aren’t scheduled to play Thursday night or they might get one hit.
 
The Phils capped off three pathetic offensive performances in as many nights by being two-hit in a 2-1 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
 
The Phils were swept in the three-game series and they wasted three solid starts from Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff and Adam Morgan as they were held to four, three and two hits, respectively, in the three games.

Stay tuned Friday night to see if the Phils get one-hit by the Braves.
 
The National League East-leading Nationals have beaten the Phillies nine straight games since May.
 
The Phillies’ woeful showing at the plate in the series dropped their team batting average to .238, second-worst in the majors. Their on-base percentage is .296, worst in the majors.
 
“Nine hits in a three-game series just isn’t going to cut it,” manager Pete Mackanin said after Wednesday night’s loss, the Phillies’ seventh in the last nine games. "We’re not hitting the ball. We need more offense.”
 
It’s going to be interesting to see how general manager Matt Klentak addresses that in the offseason. The Phils have the money to add free agents, but the team is committed to building from within and using the free-agent market to find a finishing piece or two. The way things are right now, the Phils aren’t close enough to being good where a finishing piece would make a huge difference. They need some of the players that are here now – at least the ones that are staying – to make improvements and some of the talent that is in the minors to get to the majors and start making a difference before they’re ready for that put-them-over-the-top free agent.
 
The Phils were within striking distance to turn Wednesday’s game around. Cesar Hernandez walked in a one-run game to lead off the bottom of the ninth. That brought Odubel Herrera, the Phillies’ only All-Star in July, to the plate.
 
Would Mackanin ask Herrera to move Hernandez into scoring position with a bunt, or give him a shot to shoot one in the gap and possibly score Hernandez from first?
 
“I thought about bunting Herrera,” Mackanin said. “The fact that we’re not hitting and he’s one of our top average hitters, I decided not to bunt him, took a chance.”
 
Herrera, who has struggled since the All-Star Game, bounced into a double play on the first pitch he saw from lefty Marc Rzepczynski. Maikel Franco then grounded out to end the game. And the series.
 
Herrera, who has been doubled-up just twice this season, said he would have bunted if asked. But he was happy to swing away.
 
“I was ready to hit and do some damage,” he said.
 
The Phils didn’t do much damage in the series. But the Nationals did. And they did it early. They scored five first-inning runs in the series. Jayson Werth hit first-inning home runs in the first and third games.
 
Werth’s first-inning bomb Wednesday night was just that – a 453-foot shot into the camera well high above the wall in dead center against Morgan.
 
Even Werth was impressed with how far he hit the ball.
 
“I’ve been in some pretty cool places in this ballpark but never there,” he said.
 
Freddy Galvis tied the game with a homer against Gio Gonzalez in the fifth, but the Nats went ahead in the seventh when they rallied for a two-out run against Morgan. The lefty allowed a two-out double to Anthony Rendon to extend the inning and an RBI single to Wilson Ramos on a full-count pitch.
 
“I’ve got to be able to finish,” Morgan said.
 
Morgan did have the best of his 16 starts in the majors this season, giving up just the two runs and three hits. He enjoyed working with new catcher A.J. Ellis and Mackanin said he liked the way Ellis called the game.
 
Morgan pitched well enough that he could have had a different fate. The same could be said for Thompson and Eickhoff the previous two nights.
 
Four hits. Three hits. Two hits.
 
As Mackanin said, “Nine hits in a three-game series just isn’t going to cut it.”

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

Instant Replay: Nationals 2, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies’ losing streak against the Washington Nationals this season rose to nine games in a 2-1 loss Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
 
The Phils gave up five first-inning runs and had just nine hits in being swept in the three-game series. They had four hits Monday night, three on Tuesday and two on Wednesday.
 
The Phils entered the game hitting .239 as a team. Only San Diego was worse in the majors.
 
The Phillies have lost three in a row and seven of their last nine.
 
Starting pitching report
Adam Morgan absorbed his ninth loss but had the best of his 16 starts in the majors this season. The lefty gave up a first-inning home run to Jayson Werth then did not allow another run until there were two outs in the seventh. He was one strike away from getting out of the frame with a 1-1 tie when he gave up a full-count RBI single to Wilson Ramos.
 
In all, Morgan gave up just three hits in 6 2/3 innings. He walked none and struck out five. He had entered the game with a 6.50 ERA and lowered it to 6.21.
 
Washington lefty Gio Gonzalez (10-9) held the Phillies to two hits and a run over six innings.
 
Bullpen report
Blake Treinen, Marc Rzepczynski and Shawn Kelley closed it out for the Nats. Manager Pete Mackanin pinch-hit Ryan Howard against the lefty Rzepczynski with two outs in the eighth. Howard, hitting .138 against lefties, struck out. Rzepczynski stayed on for the ninth. He walked Cesar Hernandez to lead off the frame then got Odubel Herrera to bounce into a double play before handing off to the righty Kelly. Herrera has two sacrifice bunts this season, but was not asked to get one down on this occasion.
 
At the plate
Freddy Galvis clubbed his 15th homer, a solo shot in the fifth, for the Phillies’ only run.
 
Werth’s homer in the first inning was his 20th of the season. It was a bomb to dead center. It came off the bat at 107 mph and traveled 453 feet. Werth also homered in the first inning of Monday night’s game. He has reached base safely in 55 of his last 57 games.
 
Ramos’ tie-breaking hit against Morgan came one batter after Anthony Rendon extended the seventh inning with a two-out double.
 
Ramos leads major-league catchers with 71 RBIs.
 
Reinforcements coming
The Phillies will add three players from the minors on Friday (see story).
 
Up next
The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:
 
Friday night — RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-8, 3.80) vs. RHP Joel De La Cruz (0-7, 4.66)
 
Saturday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.21) vs. TBA
 
Sunday afternoon — RHP Jake Thompson (1-4, 7.86) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (4-9, 3.12).

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies to add 3 players Friday; Nick Williams iffy for September call-up

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he expects the club to add three players from the minors on Friday. Rosters expand on Thursday, an off day for the Phils.

“A couple of relievers, maybe a hitter,” Mackanin said before Wednesday night's game against Washington.

Mackanin would not name names because a lot can change in a day or two.

Darin Ruf seems to be a logical choice to be the hitter Mackanin referred to. He opened the season with the big club, but got just 57 at-bats and hit just .158 before being sent to Triple A when Tommy Joseph came up. Since going down, Ruf has hit .298 with 20 homers, 65 RBIs and a .895 OPS in 94 games for Lehigh Valley.

The Phillies will likely add two relievers to fortify the bullpen. Patrick Schuster, a lefty who was recently claimed off waivers from Oakland, could be a possibility. Colton Murray, Luis Garcia, Dalier Hinojosa and Elvis Araujo all could be possibilities, as well. All have spent time in the majors this season.

The Phils can’t completely pick over the Triple A roster because Lehigh Valley’s regular season runs through Monday and that club is likely to be in the International League playoffs.

Once Lehigh Valley’s season is over, more pitching could come. Starters David Buchanan and Phil Klein could be possibilities. Alec Asher, currently serving a suspension for testing positive for PEDs, is expected to be activated by the big club next week and could provide some innings to the starting rotation.

It’s unclear which prospects will come up. Catcher Jorge Alfaro seems to be a shoo-in after Double A Reading’s playoff run. Shortstop J.P. Crawford is not on the 40-man roster and does not need to be protected on it this winter. That could prevent him from coming up as the Phillies look to use the 40-man roster spot on a player that they could lose if not protected. Outfielder Nick Williams seemed to be a lock to come up a month ago, but his performance has slipped at Triple A in recent weeks and he now looks iffy.

Williams, like Alfaro, was acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade last summer. The lefty-hitting outfielder entered Wednesday hitting .265 with 12 homers, 62 RBIs and just a .294 on-base percentage in 119 games. He entered Wednesday hitting just .187 with a paltry .204 on-base percentage in the month of August. He had struck out 34 times and walked just once in 93 trips to the plate in August.

That certainly cannot sit well with a front office that puts a premium on players who "control the strike zone."

AFL rosters announced
The Phillies will send six players to the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. The group includes three pitchers, right-handed relievers Victor Arano and Miguel Nunez, and lefty starter Brandon Liebrandt, second baseman Scott Kingery, third baseman Mitch Walding, and outfielder Aaron Brown. Brown replaces outfielder Andrew Pullin, who recently went on the disabled list at Double A Reading with an elbow injury.