Maikel Franco breaks out of slump just in time to face nemesis Bartolo Colon

Maikel Franco breaks out of slump just in time to face nemesis Bartolo Colon

NEW YORK -- Maikel Franco lugged a career-worst 0-for-21 slump into Thursday night's game against the New York Mets.

By the second inning, the skid had swelled to 0 for 22 and it was reasonable to begin to wonder if Franco would get a night off when the Phillies returned home Friday to face Bartolo Colon and the Atlanta Braves. After all, Franco is 1 for 16 with no walks and three strikeouts lifetime against Colon, the portly right-hander who knows how to exploit Franco's free-swinging tendencies with savvy, pitch movement and change of speed.

When Pete Mackanin posts his starting lineup for Friday night's game, look for Franco to be in it.

Colon or no Colon, Mackanin has to play Franco after the way he rebounded after his first at-bat Thursday night.

Franco scorched an RBI double to left field against gas-throwing Noah Syndergaard in the third inning and later belted a home run against Fernando Salas to help lead the Phillies' 6-4 win over the Mets (see game story).

It was a slump-busting, confidence-building, frustration-dissipating game for Franco. The Phils' cleanup man will carry a .172 batting average into Friday night.

"It was great to see Franco finally break through," Mackanin said. "He's not going to hit .150, .160. These guys that are hitting .380 and .400, they're not going to hit .380 and .400 all season. Everything evens out."

Franco admitted that the slump had begun to frustrate him. He believed that he was hitting the ball better than his results. He was, in fact. Entering Thursday, the ball had come off his bat at 91.7 miles per hour, according to MLB's Statcast data. That was the 18th-best average exit velocity in baseball. On balls in play, Franco was hitting just .136 entering Thursday and that suggests some bad luck.

But it wasn't all bad luck, in the opinion of hitting coach Matt Stairs.

"It's kind of surprising to see his numbers with the amount of work he does in the batting cage," Stairs said before the game. "He works his tail off. He does everything right in the cage, gets out in batting practice and works on things and has great BPs, drives the ball to left-center and right-center, not thinking pull.

"I think the thing that is hurting him this year is that he's gotten some pitches to hit and he's missing them. I really do. If you go back and look at the films, he's had some pitches to hit. I don't know if he's gotten a little too big (with his swing). I think his timing is off a little bit. His foot is getting down late which is causing him to miss those pitches.

"Yeah, he is running into some bad luck. But I'm not going to say that's the reason he's hitting what he's hitting. He's made some easy outs on balls he should be hitting."

Though his batting average is down, Franco's selectivity at the plate, a major problem last year, has improved in the early season. He entered Thursday seeing 3.93 pitches per at-bat, up from 3.56 last year, and his walk rate was 8.3 percent, up from 6.3.

Before the game, Stairs offered the opinion that Franco was ready to break out.

"Am I worried about him?" Stairs said. "No. It takes one swing to turn it around."

Franco found that swing.

Twice.

Now comes the test of Bartolo Colon.

Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

Phillies take down Noah Syndergaard for 'special' series win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- Noah Syndergaard came out firing Thursday night. The right-hander with the electric arm and the power forward's body struck out the Phillies' first three hitters on 14 pitches to open the game. Thirteen of those pitches were strikes. Three of them reached triple digits on the radar gun and five of them came up just a mile per hour short at 99.

A penny for your thoughts at that point, Pete Mackanin.

"It looked like he might be having one of his best nights," the Phillies manager said.

Syndergaard actually had a pretty good night. But the Phillies, as a team, had a better night and they managed to escape Citi Field with a 6-4 victory and just their third winning series against the Mets in the last 18 (see Instant Replay). The Phils' last series win over the Mets came in early April of last season.

"It sure is nice to win a series here against the Mets," Mackanin said. "It's always nice to win a series. But against these guys, it was special, as much as they've beat us up over the last year."

Syndergaard pitched seven innings and did not walk a batter while striking out 10. For the season, he has 30 strikeouts and no walks in 26 innings over four starts.

But the Phils, with the help of the Mets' sloppy defense, managed to get some baserunners and some big hits against Syndergaard. He gave up five runs, two of which were unearned.

Aaron Nola struggled to protect an early 5-1 lead but never relinquished it, and the bullpen was outstanding in locking down the win.

Lefty Joely Rodriguez got six huge outs to protect a one-run lead and Mackanin surprised folks by using Joaquin Benoit in the eighth inning and Hector Neris in the ninth to close it out. 

Last week, Mackanin installed Benoit as closer after Jeanmar Gomez lost the job. Mackanin used the qualifier "for now," when announcing that Benoit would close. The "now" did not last too long. Benoit blew a save in Washington over the weekend and now Neris is getting a look. He has the stuff -- a power fastball, a good splitter and more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings last season -- to do the job.

"I think [Benoit] looks more comfortable [in a setup role]," Mackanin said. "Over in Washington, I didn't see that good changeup. He spiked a couple of changeups and didn't have command of it. Tonight, he threw some great ones. So that was great to see. In general, we have two guys I feel comfortable with. I'll probably use Neris again. But it's nice to have somebody that when one guy's not available, the other guy is."

The Phillies' starting lineup included two guys -- Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph -- who entered the game hitting under .160. Syndergaard did not figure to be the best guy to get right against, but baseball is a funny game. Franco extended his career-long slump to 0 for 22 in the second inning but came back in the fourth with an RBI double -- a liner over the left fielder's head on a 97-mph fastball -- against Syndergaard in the third inning. In the eighth, Franco homered to left against Fernando Salas.

Meanwhile, Joseph had three hits, including an RBI double down the right-field line on a 100-mph heater in the second inning to score the Phillies' first run.

The Phils scored three in the second and two in the third against Syndergaard. In both innings, the Mets made costly errors. Andrew Knapp started at catcher in place of Cameron Rupp and had an RBI double in the second inning.

"It's a tough chore," Mackanin said of facing Syndergaard. "We made him work. We scored early on him. It was great to see. He's a bulldog. He was still throwing 98 in the seventh inning. We just took advantage of some mistakes he made. I give the guys a lot of credit for battling him and not being intimidated.

"You never know what to expect. That's what's so unique about baseball."

Nola was not crisp. He had a ton of trouble putting hitters away with two strikes. He walked Syndergaard with two outs in the second inning after being up in the count, 0-2, and that came back to haunt him when Rene Rivera delivered an RBI single. In the third inning, Nola gave up a three-run homer to Neil Walker on an 0-2 curveball. That made it a 5-4 game.

"I had terrible two-strike pitches, especially 0-2," Nola said.

Nola lasted just five innings. He gave up seven hits and walked four as he ran a high pitch count. He got the win thanks to his mates' timely hitting and good bullpen work.

For the season, Nola has made three starts and given up 20 hits and eight earned runs in 16 innings. He has walked six and struck out 15.

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Mets 4

Instant Replay: Phillies 6, Mets 4

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- The Phillies on Thursday night did something that is not easy to do. They beat Noah Syndergaard.

The Phils scored three times in the second inning and twice more in the third against the flame-throwing right-hander on their way to a 6-4 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field.

The Phils ended up taking two of three to win just their third series against the Mets in the last 18 tries.

Syndergaard entered the game with the fourth-best ERA in the majors (2.78) since the start of the 2015 season and he had allowed just two earned runs in 19 innings over his first three starts this season.

Tommy Joseph, Andrew Knapp and Maikel Franco all had RBI doubles against Syndergaard, whose fastball reached triple digits a number of times.

Franco's double in the third broke an 0-for-22 slump. He also smacked a solo homer off reliever Fernando Salas in the eighth.

Aaron Nola got the win despite allowing the Mets to chip away at his early 5-1 lead.

The Phils are 6-9. The Mets are 8-8.

Starting pitching report
Though he left the game with a one-run lead, Nola did not pitch well. He ran a high pitch count (96) and lasted just five innings. He gave up seven hits and four runs. He walked four and struck out two. Nola had trouble putting hitters away. He gave up four hits with two strikes on a batter, including a three-run homer to Neil Walker on an 0-2 breaking ball in the third inning.

Syndergaard was not supported by good defense. Two of the five runs he gave up were unearned. He went seven innings and did not walk a batter. He struck out 10. He has not walked a batter in 26 innings this season. He has 30 strikeouts.

Bullpen report
Lefty Joely Rodriguez came up huge for the Phils. He got six outs in protecting a one-run lead. He threw 17 pitches, 14 strikes.

Manager Pete Mackanin switched up his end game and used Joaquin Benoit for a scoreless eighth and Hector Neris for the save. Benoit was installed as closer just last week after Jeanmar Gomez lost the job.

At the plate
The Phillies had 10 hits. Franco and Joseph, who both entered the game hitting under .160, accounted for five of them. In addition to his two extra-base hits, Franco walked once. Aaron Altherr had two hits.

Walker's homer was the big hit for the Mets.

In the field
The Mets made three errors.

Lineup stuff
Michael Saunders was scratched from the starting lineup because of illness. He did pinch-hit in the sixth inning and lined a shot to the gap in left-center. Saunders was denied extra bases when Mets left-fielder Michael Conforto made a terrific grab running into the wall.

Up next
The Phils return home Friday night to begin a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday night -- RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 0.82) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (1-1, 4.24)

Saturday night -- RHP Jerad Eickhoff (0-1, 2.75) vs. LHP Jaime Garcia (0-1, 4.67)

Sunday afternoon -- RHP Zach Eflin (0-0, 3.60) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (0-2, 4.26)