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.


Now comes the test of Bartolo Colon.

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

Phillies set to unveil new ace Jake Arrieta in spring training

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Thursday starts the one-week countdown to opening day.

Oh, yeah, and Jake Arrieta will also make his Grapefruit League debut.

It figures to be the highlight of the spring.

Arrieta signed a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies last week. He has completed a progression from bullpen work — he actually had gotten well into that on his own before signing — to facing hitters in a controlled situation.

Now, it’s time to face some competition — the Detroit Tigers. The game will be televised on NBCSP+ at 1 p.m.

The Phillies have yet to decide when Arrieta will make his regular-season debut. The pitcher believes he will be ready during the first week of the season. The team will exercise caution. Arrieta’s performance Thursday — and possibly more important, his recovery — will go a long way into determining when the Phils turn him loose.

“I’m looking for him to be healthy, first and foremost,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I would love to see him come out just like he has in his live batting practice sessions and in his bullpens, which is strong, ball looking like a lead fastball, featuring that great cutter and a lot of that great deception.

"We’re looking for him to be Jake Arrieta. Most importantly, most critically and most consequentially, I’m looking for him to be healthy and strong.”

Kapler said the Phils would be flexible on Arrieta’s pitch count. Fifty or so seems like a good guess.

Arrieta has been around for a week now. His teammates are thrilled to have him.

“Obviously, with the Arrieta signing, we got a lot better not only on the field but in the clubhouse,” Rhys Hoskins said (more on him here). “What he’s going to be able to do not only for the pitchers but for some of us young position guys — I mean he’s recently won a World Series, he’s a Cy Young guy, he knows how to compete at the highest level. We have a good group. It’s meshing pretty quickly. I’m excited to see how it goes once we start.”

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight

USA Today Images

Rhys Hoskins doing damage as opening day comes into sight


DUNEDIN, Fla. — The season opener is eight days away and Rhys Hoskins says his swing “is getting there.” 

Getting there? Really?

It looks like it already arrived with the morning mail.

Hoskins continued his recent run of excellent at-bats in Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays. He belted a two-run homer, a solo homer and also worked a walk. Over his last five games, he is 6 for 16 with five walks. For the spring, he is hitting .279 (12 for 43) with four doubles, four homers, eight RBIs, 11 runs scored and an OPS of 1.066.

“What does he have, 10 strikeouts and 10 walks on the spring?” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler asked.

Indeed, those are the numbers.

“That is fantastic,” Kapler said. “Obviously, he’s swinging the bat beautifully and really controlling the at-bats.”

It all starts with pitch recognition.

“I’ve been pretty happy with that throughout camp,” Hoskins said. “I don’t feel like I’ve chased too many, which is always good. I’ve seen a bunch of breaking balls and been able to recognize them early.”

The outstanding selectivity that Hoskins has allows him to work pitchers into fastball counts. He did that in the first inning when he got a 3-1 fastball from Marcus Stroman and drove it over the left-field wall. The ball left the bat at 108 miles per hour.

Obviously, Hoskins was pleased that the ball left the yard. He was more pleased with the swing. He believes pitchers will try to bust him in this season and he’s ready for it.

“I was really, really happy with the first at-bat,” he said. “I had been struggling with the ball in. I was able to keep my hands inside of it and the ball went.”

His second homer came on a 1-1 fastball from Luis Santos. The wind was blowing out at Dunedin Stadium. Hoskins saw a pitch up and took a rip.

“On a day like today, if you see the ball up you’re going to have a pretty good chance,” he said.

Hoskins batted second in the lineup, ahead of Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana. Kapler has juggled lineups all spring and has strongly implied that he will do that, based on matchups, during the regular season.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Hoskins said. “With the guys we have and the way they’re going to construct the lineup, if I hit second, fourth, sixth, I think I’m going to be able to hit with men on base.

“Throughout my career I’ve been a run producer, so that’s the main thing for me. If I can create some runs, whether it’s scoring runs or driving in runs, I’ll be happy.”

The Phils and Jays played to a 7-7 tie. The Phillies’ bullpen gave up five runs in the last two innings to let a 7-2 lead get away. The Phils used 10 pitchers, including two day-trippers from minor-league camp. Starter Nick Pivetta pitched two perfect innings. The team purposely scaled him back to keep him in line with a 25-inning spring target. Scott Kingery and Aaron Altherr also hit home runs.