MIAMI -- Nick Williams has been a major-leaguer less than three weeks and his progress has accelerated so swiftly that the Phillies are already trying to pump the breaks.
“I’m not going to say a whole lot about him right now,” manager Pete Mackanin said of his 23-year-old rookie right fielder. “I don’t want to jinx myself.”
Williams, elevated to the three-hole in the batting order on Tuesday, is batting .316 with four doubles, three triples and two homers — including one grand slam — in just 16 games.
In the past six games, Williams has 11 RBIs. And he is one of just four Phillies in more than 100 years to produce multiple RBIs and multiple hits in four straight games, a list that includes Greg Luzinski (1977); Chuck Klein (1932) and Lefty O’Doul (1929).
Williams is also one of just three Phillies with an OPS north of .800. Williams leads the team in OPS at .963. He is followed by Aaron Altherr (.898), who figures to be out multiple weeks due to a hamstring injury; and Howie Kendrick (.879), who is on an injury rehab assignment at Double-A Reading.
Kendrick, who is in the last year of his contract, will likely be gone soon, perhaps by the July 31 trading deadline, if he can prove he is healthy enough to contribute to a playoff contender.
Meanwhile, Altherr and Williams have both played right field this year. Assuming Williams continues to play well, Mackanin will have to sort it out, and, presumably, one of those two players shifts to left.
For now, the Phillies need the quiet Williams to continue making noise with his bat because this is a team that ranks second-to-last in the majors with 365 runs scored.
And that’s after taking two out of three games from the Miami Marlins this week in a breakout offensive performance by the entire team. The Phillies scored 20 runs in the series, their second-best showing in a three-game set all year.
The Phillies had five players come through with multi-hit games in Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Marlins. Seven players turned that trick in Wednesday’s 10-3 victory in which the Phillies set a season high with 20 hits (see story).
“Hitting is contagious,” Williams said in advance of Friday’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers, which starts a 10-game homestand. “When you see so many guys do it, I always think of it as, ‘If he can do it, I can do it.’ ”
Mackanin this week talked up Maikel Franco, who has been used as the cleanup batter 38 times this year and has hit fifth and sixth 20 times each.
Franco, according to Mackanin, leveled off his swing in a productive batting-practice session on Tuesday, and the manager predicts a big second half from him.
Perhaps Franco can settle in as the full-time cleanup hitter.
Perhaps Franco can provide quality protection for Williams in the three-hole.
Perhaps this can become a thing, Williams and Franco.
Fact is, age-wise, they are well-positioned to grow together with the Phillies. Franco is 24 — he just seems older because he broke into the majors in 2014 — and Williams is 23.
And although Williams is younger, he seems mature. These thrilling three weeks do not appear to have fazed him. He is not, for example, trying to pull everything.
“Growing up,” said Williams, who is from Galveston, Texas, “I always heard, ‘Hit it where it’s pitched.’
“If (pitchers throw) away, hit it that way. If they come in, pull it. … I just trust my hands.”
At 32-61, the Phillies are miles away from contention, and further still from their 2008 team that won the World Series.
Progress has been slow, but finding some hitters that will strike fear in the hearts and minds of opposing pitchers and managers will be a fine start.
Intentional walks are often a show of respect. Right now, no one on the Phillies has drawn more than four intentional passes.
If you look back at the ’08 Phillies, Ryan Howard was walked intentionally 17 times. Chase Utley was walked intentionally 14 times.
That’s what happens when you hit 48 homers like Howard did that year.
That’s what happens when you hit 41 doubles like Utley did that year.
That’s what happens when you’re dangerous.
The Phillies are hoping that Williams, a former second-round pick and part of the package received from the Texas Rangers in the 2015 Cole Hamels trade, can be anywhere near that dangerous one day.
For now, though, Mackanin would prefer less talking and more hitting.
“I just want to watch him continue to play,” Mackanin said, “(continue to) be aggressive at the plate.”