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.”

MLB Notes: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

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MLB Notes: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hoping to bolster their rotation for a playoff run, the Minnesota Twins have acquired veteran left-handed pitcher Jaime García, catcher Anthony Recker and cash considerations from the Atlanta Braves for minor league right-hander Huascar Ynoa.

The 31-year-old García is 66-52 with a 3.65 ERA and 808 strikeouts in 176 appearances, mostly with St. Louis (2008, 2010-16). He missed the 2009 MLB season following Tommy John surgery.

Garcia is 4-7 with a 4.30 ERA, 41 walks and 85 strikeouts in 18 starts for the Braves this year.

While Garcia's numbers don't jump off the page, the Twins were in need of a veteran arm to put into a rotation that has been largely disappointing behind the top two starters, Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios (see full story).

Royals: Cahill, Maurer, Buchter acquired from Padres
DETROIT -- The contending Kansas City Royals have acquired three pitchers from the San Diego Padres, getting starter Trevor Cahill, closer Brandon Maurer and reliever Ryan Buchter.

The Royals sent pitchers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, minor league infielder Esteury Ruiz and cash to San Diego on Monday. The deal came one week before the nonwaiver trade deadline.

Kansas City began the day tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot and 1 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland. The Royals had been looking to bolster their rotation and bullpen, and did it with one swap.

Cahill was 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Padres. The 29-year-old right-hander was an All-Star with Oakland in 2010.

Maurer is 20-for-23 on save tries, and 1-4 with a 5.72 ERA. The 27-year-old righty began his big league career with Seattle in 2013 as a starter.

Buchter is 3-3 with one save and a 3.05 ERA in 42 games. The 30-year-old lefty pitched 67 times for the Padres last year.

Dodgers: Kershaw lost to DL with back injury
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw is headed to the disabled list for the second straight summer because of a back injury.

A year after missing 2 1/2 months with a herniated disk in his lower back, Kershaw was pulled from a start Sunday against Atlanta because of lower back tightness. The Los Angeles Dodgers ace exited after two innings in a 5-4, 10-inning victory.

It leaves baseball's top team without its best pitcher. The Dodgers lead the majors with a 68-31 record and are atop the NL West standings by 10 games.

Kershaw was set to meet with a back specialist Sunday evening for tests, although manager Dave Roberts was already sure that Kershaw would be placed on the 10-day DL (see full story).

Mets: Wheeler put on DL because of arm trouble
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets have put pitcher Zack Wheeler on the 10-day disabled list because of a stress reaction in his right arm.

The Mets didn't provide a timetable for Wheeler's return. He was on the DL last month with biceps tendinitis and has struggled in four starts since his return.

The team recalled righty Tyler Pill from Triple-A Las Vegas before Monday night's game at San Diego.

Wheeler joins Mets starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Robert Gsellman on the disabled list. Steven Matz and Seth Lugo recently came off the DL and returned to the rotation.

The 27-year-old Wheeler didn't pitch in the majors the past two years after having Tommy John surgery in 2015. He is 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts.

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

The hot-hitting Phillies made some minor tweaks to their lineup for Monday's series opener against the American League-beset Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park.

Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph all move up in the lineup with Howie Kendrick getting the day off. Williams will hit third, Herrera moves up to fifth and Joseph will hit sixth. Andrew Knapp is catching and batting seventh. Cameron Perkins is playing left field and batting eighth.

Williams is hitting .309 with four home runs, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games since being called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on June 30. He had a two-run homer and another RBI in the Phillies' 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon.

After his 1 for 3 day with an RBI on Sunday, Herrera moves up spot. The centerfielder is hitting .331 with a major-league leading 19 doubles since June 3.

Joseph was 0 for 4 on Sunday with two strikeouts. He hit seventh against the Brewers but will hit sixth tonight.

Vince Velasquez (2-5, 5.14)  is on the mound for the Phillies. He'll be opposed by Brad Peacock (8-1, 2.49).

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Cameron Perkins, LF
9. Vince Velasquez, SP

For more on tonight's game, read Corey Seidman's game notes.