Franco hears the wake-up call, vows improvement in 2018

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Franco hears the wake-up call, vows improvement in 2018

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Maikel Franco began last season as the Phillies’ cleanup hitter, one of the most important players in the lineup.

By the time September rolled around, he wasn’t even a full-time starter. There were nights when he sat so the team could take a look at J.P. Crawford.

“It was difficult,” Franco conceded after a workout at Phillies camp Wednesday.

Franco made it easy for the Phillies to take away playing time last season. Though he managed to lead the team in home runs (24) and RBIs (76), his OPS was a dreadful .690, the lowest among 18 major-league third basemen who had 400 or more plate appearances.

Looking back now, Franco says the loss of playing time was a wake-up call. He went home to the Dominican Republic for the winter knowing he needed to improve.

It started with getting in better shape. Team officials told him he needed to do so, "but I knew it, too," he said. He has reported to camp early. His midsection is noticeably trimmer and his upper body looks strong. His weight, he said, is between 218 and 220 pounds. He ended last season at 232.

During the offseason, Franco worked out regularly with instructor Manny Amador at the Phillies’ academy in the Dominican. Franco made no dramatic adjustments to his swing, but he did work on trying to elevate the ball more. He ranked 34th in the majors with 176 balls hit 95 miles per hour or harder in 2017. With that exit velocity, Phillies officials believe he will do more damage if he gets the ball in the air. He does not run well, so ground balls are not his friend. 

Launch angle isn’t the only area that Franco is looking to improve. Selectivity has been a career-long problem. He worked out regularly in the DR with new teammate Carlos Santana, who has outstanding strike-zone control. The two talked about the concept and Franco believes he is ready to make improvements in that area.

“This is a big year for me, no question,” said Franco, emerging from the batting cage and soaked in sweat after some extra work. “Everybody expected I would put up better numbers last year.

“I put it in my mind that I needed to be better and I worked hard in the offseason. I know I need to be more consistent. I expect more than I did last year. More walks, more RBIs, more on-base percentage, more home runs. I have to be more selective. Everything. Calm down and don’t get too aggressive. Don’t overswing. Put the ball in play.”

New hitting coach John Mallee will stress these areas of improvement with Franco.

This is a big year for the 25-year-old third baseman. Everyone knows Manny Machado will be a free agent at season’s end. And it’s well known that the Phillies like him and have the money to sign him. Even a big, breakout season from Franco might not get the Phillies off of Machado.

But a strong season will ensure Franco’s future somewhere. It would build some trade value.

“I’m confident that I am going to have a good season,” Franco said. 


“Because I had an amazing offseason,” he said.

Well, Franco’s offseason wasn’t completely amazing. There was one highly publicized misstep. He and some winter ball teammates were photographed frolicking over drinks in the DR close to sunrise in early January. His team, the Giants, had a playoff game later that day. The club disciplined the players and Franco did not play again for the club.

“I was with friends,” he said. “We went out. We were having fun and somebody took a picture.

“I know I made a mistake. I will learn from it. It’s not going to happen again.” 

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

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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.