Today's Lineup: Maikel Franco moves to first base; Aaron Altherr back starting

Today's Lineup: Maikel Franco moves to first base; Aaron Altherr back starting

Sunday's Phillies lineup for the series finale in D.C. at Nationals Park is quite an interesting one, to say the least.

Could it be a glimpse into the plans for 2018?

Maikel Franco will make just his eighth career appearance at first base, J.P. Crawford is back at third base and Aaron Altherr makes his first start since coming off the disabled list this afternoon vs. the Nats.

Franco, who's batting fifth today, has not started at first base since June 24, 2015, when he started the second of two straight games there during interleague play against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin wants to get Crawford, batting eighth today, as many at bats as possible, but Franco did go 2 for 4 with a home run last night and has hit safely in 11 of his last 14 games. In that span, Franco has hit .275 with four doubles, three homers, 6 RBIs and 10 runs scored. Franco's average is still just .226 on the season, but there is a reason to keep his bat in the lineup with the way he's swung it over the last two weeks or so.

That means Crawford's playing time will come today at the expense of Tommy Joseph, who's just 6 for his last 34 at the plate, a .176 average in that span.

Altherr, who's hitting .285 on the season with 16 homers and 49 RBIs and been the Phillies' best hitter this season this side of Rhys Hoskins, starts in center today in place of Odubel Herrera. It marks Altherr's first start since Aug. 4 in Colorado when he reaggravated his hamstring injury. He appeared in a defensive replacement role in last night's win, but he didn't record an at-bat. He'll bat sixth today.

And, yes, of course, Hoskins will be back in the lineup after going yard last night for the 14th time this season. He'll be in left and bat clean-up.

Rookie Ben Lively gets the start for the Phils. The 25-year-old is 3-5 on the season with a 3.92 ERA and is coming off a stellar performance last week in New York vs. the Mets. He hurled seven innings of one-run ball and even drilled his first career homer in a 9-1 victory.

He'll be opposed by Nats star fireballer Stephen Strasburg, who enters today's contest with a 12-4 record and a 2.78 ERA. He's just been exceptional this season and has proved it against the Phils in three starts. He ended up with a no-decision while giving up three runs over seven innings in a 4-3 Phils win on April 9. He ended up with another no-decision after seven innings of two-run ball in an eventual Nats win on April 14. He wasn't his sharpest on May 5 but earned a win after 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball.

Both teams' full lineups for today's series finale can be found below:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Maikel Franco, 1B
6. Aaron Altherr, CF
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. J.P. Crawford, 3B
9. Ben Lively, SP

1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Adrian Sanchez, 3B
3. Wilmer Difo, 2B
4. Adam Lind, 1B
5. Victor Robles, CF
6. Andrew Stevenson, LF
7. Pedro Severino, C
8. Rafael Bautista, RF
9. Stephen Strasburg, SP

Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff

USA Today Images

Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff


CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies will be without Mark Leiter Jr.'s versatile arm for about six weeks. An MRI performed Monday on the pitcher's sore right forearm showed a strained flexor muscle.

Leiter had a good chance to make the opening day roster as a long reliever or fifth starter. With him out, the Phillies could be in need of a swingman.

Could Ben Lively be that guy?

"I can pitch anywhere," the competitive 26-year-old right-hander said. "I don't care. Wherever they want, I'll pitch."

Lively did nothing to hurt his chances of making the club as he turned in five shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in a rain-shortened 2-0 win Tuesday afternoon. He allowed just three hits, walked none and struck out four. He was particularly impressive in the fourth inning, striking out Justin Smoak and retiring Russell Martin on a tapper back to the mound with runners on second and third.

"I just tried to bear down and stick to the game plan," Lively said. "There's too much technology around here now. We have all the heat maps and we talked about it before the game and I just stayed with it."

Lively made 15 starts with the big club last year and 10 of them were quality starts in which he went at least six innings and gave up three or fewer earned runs. Lively doesn't have power stuff. He gave up 9.1 hits per nine innings last season and struck out just 5.3 per nine. Management would love to see some improvement in those areas — i.e., more of what he displayed on Tuesday.

"Lively was strong today," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He came out and attacked the zone.

"One of the things that is important is that we see some swing and misses with Lives and we saw a couple of bat-missing moments today that were, to me, a big deal. He induces quick contact, which is important, but we also like to see the ability to miss bats and we saw that on a couple of occasions, (Curtis) Granderson being most notable."

Granderson struck out twice against Lively.

"We look at past tendencies from recent years," Lively said of his pregame study. "The main one we looked at today was Granderson. He has a low slugging percentage on the outer half (of the plate), so we pounded him on the outer half the whole time."

With Jerad Eickhoff headed to the disabled list and Nick Pivetta likely to join Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez in the starting rotation, Lively appears to be vying for the fifth starter's job with Zach Eflin and non-roster invite Drew Hutchison. But he and Hutchison also could be vying for a long man's job in the bullpen.

By mid-April, the Phillies will probably have an eight-man bullpen. But they could break with an extra reliever because they won't need a fifth starter until April 11.

However it shakes out, Lively did not hurt his chances of landing some role with his performance Tuesday.

Roster moves
The Phillies sent catcher Logan Moore, infielder Mitch Walding and outfielder Andrew Pullin to minor-league camp.

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

Photo: NBCSP

What's up with Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Sixto Sanchez, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, has been noticeably absent from game action in minor-league camp.

Joe Jordan, the Phillies' director of player development, says there's nothing to be alarmed about.

"He had the flu and he's over it now," Jordan said. "He's fine now. No issues. He's 100 percent."

Jordan said Sanchez got up to 30 pitches in a bullpen session this week.

"He let it go with all his pitches," Jordan said.

Jordan added that Sanchez would pitch in a game in the next few days. He added that Sanchez would open the season on time with the Clearwater club, though his innings will be watched at the outset until he's fully stretched out.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed right-hander with remarkable control. He went 5-7 with 3.03 ERA in 18 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater, both Single A affiliates, last season. He pitched 95 innings, struck out 84, walked 18 and had a WHIP of 0.958.