Phillies

Phillies-Braves observations: Henderson Alvarez solid, but bullpen bends in loss

Phillies-Braves observations: Henderson Alvarez solid, but bullpen bends in loss

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ATLANTA — The Phillies' bullpen could not hold a late lead Saturday night. The result was a 4-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park.

The Phils have lost three in a row.
 
The Phillies led 2-0 through five innings and Henderson Alvarez, signed out of the Independent Atlantic League a month ago, was in line for his first big-league win in exactly three years when the Braves struck for a solo homer off reliever Kevin Siegrist in the sixth and three runs against Luis Garcia in the eighth.
 
Pinch-hitter Johan Camargo had the big hit, a two-run pinch-hit double for the Braves with two outs in the eighth, breaking a 2-2 tie.
 
Rhys Hoskins doubled home Nick Williams with the Phillies' first run with two outs in the first inning. Maikel Franco scored the Phils' second run on a passed ball in the fifth inning.
 
Both starters were good. Julio Teheran pitched seven innings of two-run ball for Atlanta. Only one of the runs he gave up was earned. Alvarez pitched five shutout innings.
 
• The Phillies signed Alvarez for organizational depth, to help them get through the season with other pitchers having gone down with injury. He's looking at the opportunity as a chance to show teams he can still pitch in the majors after missing 2016 and much of 2017 recovering from a shoulder injury. It's difficult to envision the Phillies keeping the 27-year-old right-hander on the 40-man roster all winter, but signing Alvarez to a minor-league deal for 2017 with an invite to big-league camp would make sense. He could provide depth at Triple A and if he pitched well a chance in the majors would surely arise. However, if the Phillies removed Alvarez from the 40-man roster after the season, there's no guarantee he would re-sign with the club.
 
• It's unclear if Alvarez will get another start over the final week of the season. The Phillies initially planned to use him as a sixth starter for the remainder of the month, but manager Pete Mackanin suggested he could be used out of the bullpen the rest of the way. More will be known on that in a few days.
 
• Noted Braves killer Odubel Herrera remained hitless in the series. He grounded to second on the first pitch he saw with two outs and the bases loaded to end the top of the seventh. The Phillies had Braves starter Teheran on the ropes and manager Brian Snitker visited the mound as Herrera came up. Teheran wanted to stay in the game and he quickly dispatched Herrera.

• Hoskins' RBI in the first inning was his 46th in 43 games. Hoskins has 21 RBIs in September and Nick Williams has 22. They are the first pair of Phillies rookies to collect 20 or more RBIs in the same calendar month since RBIs became an official statistic in 1920.
 
• Hoskins is just 5 for his last 35.
 
• Garcia took the loss. He allowed three runs. He had not allowed an earned run in his previous 12 1/3 innings.

• Pinch-runner Micah Johnson scored the tying run for the Braves in the eighth inning on a hit to right by Dansby Swanson. Johnson set up the run with a key stolen base that did not even draw a throw from catcher Cameron Rupp.
 
• Lefty reliever Adam Morgan, pitching in his hometown, delivered a scoreless seventh inning to protect a 2-1 lead. He has given up just two runs over 23 innings since Aug. 2. Nearly waived off the 40-man roster at the end of spring training, Morgan has pitched himself firmly into the team's bullpen plans for next season. His velocity is better — up to 97 mph — and his slider is much improved. He is pitching with confidence.
 
• J.P. Crawford started at second base for the fourth time. Mackanin said he would start at shortstop Sunday. That will be his fourth time starting at shortstop. Crawford has started 16 of the team's 18 games since arriving from Triple A on Sept 5. Clearly, team officials are trying to gauge his readiness for a spot on the opening day roster. The 22-year-old infielder does not look overmatched. He has played well defensively and has a .385 on-base percentage. If Crawford opens the 2018 season with the Phillies, the question is where: The Phillies are likely to dangle shortstop Freddy Galvis as a trade possibility. If Galvis were moved, Crawford would play his natural shortstop. Third base remains a possibility if the team moves Franco. There have been indications that the Phillies aren't ready to give up on Franco, but they certainly wouldn't say no to the right deal. Second base is more of a long shot for Crawford as Scott Kingery appears to be the man of the future at that position. He could arrive in May. Regardless of what happens early next season, Crawford appears to be the shortstop of the future.
 
• Phillie killer Freddie Freeman was not in the lineup. In fact, he was told to stay home because he has a stomach bug and the Braves didn't want it sweeping through their clubhouse. No word on his availability for Sunday.
 
• For the second time in three games, it will be an all-rookie matchup in the series finale in Sunday afternoon. Nick Pivetta (6-10, 6.57) will pitch for the Phillies against Braves lefty Luiz Gohara (1-2. 6.06).

Report linking Padres to Maikel Franco seems like no coincidence

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Report linking Padres to Maikel Franco seems like no coincidence

WASHINGTON — It doesn't seem like a coincidence that Ken Rosenthal's report of the Padres' interest in Maikel Franco came after Franco's best game of the season Saturday.

Franco has been available for quite a while and no team has bit. Saturday, a few hours after Franco went 4 for 4 with three key hits and scored twice (see story), Rosenthal reported San Diego's interest.

While one 4-for-4 game won't sway a front office, the Padres do make sense as a Franco destination. They won't be competing for a little while, they don't run high payrolls and they have an unsettled 3B situation. 

Second-year third baseman Christian Villanueva has hit 16 home runs in 230 plate appearances for San Diego this season (including a major-league-best 11 vs. lefties) but he's batting .230 with a .300 OBP and has hit .173 since May 2.

Power, .230 batting average, .300 OBP ... sounds like Franco, doesn't it?

Gabe Kapler talked on Friday about the "fixes" the Phils need to see from Franco (see story), namely putting the ball in the air more. It's strange, but for a player who swings and misses and chases bad pitches as much as Franco, he does not strike out much. Since the start of 2016, 92 percent of major-leaguers have a higher strikeout rate.

Yet when Franco makes contact, it's often been weak contact. Groundballs to the left side. Pop flies to the shallow outfield. The Phillies want him to get away from that and focus on driving the ball more. Perhaps that will mean a few more K's as a result, but they'll take it if it's accompanied by more consistent pop.

Replacing Franco

The Phillies right now wouldn't trade Franco without first having a ready-made replacement. Maybe that's Adrian Beltre, maybe it's Royals rental 3B Mike Moustakas. 

But if the Phils don't first acquire a third baseman, it would make no sense for a team in contention to trade away its starting third baseman while J.P. Crawford is on the DL.

They're not going to move Franco only to replace him with Mitch Walding.

Potential return from Padres

In Rosenthal's report, he mentions San Diego relievers Brad Hand, Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen.

First things first, you're not getting Brad Hand straight up for Maikel Franco. That's crazy talk. Hand, a lefty, has been one of baseball's best relievers the last three seasons, posting a 2.53 ERA in 189 appearances with 11.8 strikeouts per nine innings. He led MLB in games pitched in 2016, made the All-Star team in 2017 and leads the NL in saves this season.

Hand is one of San Diego's best trade assets, if not its best. The Padres would be looking for more in return than a third baseman with a .300 career OBP who is an average-at-best defender.

Yates, a righty, is having by far the best season of his five-year career. He has a 0.90 ERA in 30 innings with 36 strikeouts. Prior to 2018, he had a 4.78 career ERA and was extremely homer-prone.

Stammen, who Phillies fans will remember from his days with the Nationals (2009-15), has reestablished himself as a setup man in San Diego. He has a 2.02 ERA this season with impressive strikeout and walk rates. Last season, he did it over a full year, posting a 3.14 ERA in 80⅓ innings.

Hand is too much for the Padres to give up for Franco, but from a Phillies perspective, neither Yates nor Stammen should be enough. Neither setup man would change the complexion of the Phils' bullpen. Neither Yates nor Stammen would come here and be viewed as more reliable than a Tommy Hunter, for example. The fact that both are under control past this season helps, but the Phils have talent in the bullpen, even if it's struggled in June. 

Perhaps one of those relievers and a minor-leaguer of intrigue would get a deal done, but it seems unlikely the Phils would part with Franco straight up for a successful reliever with a brief track record.

And lastly, as trustworthy as Rosenthal is, this could be an example of wishful thinking on the part of someone in the Phillies' front office, leaking a little info to a well-known reporter to drum up interest in Franco after his best game of the season.

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Padres reportedly interested in trading for Phillies' Maikel Franco

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Padres reportedly interested in trading for Phillies' Maikel Franco

Despite his big day in the Phillies' win Saturday afternoon (see story), Maikel Franco's future with the Phillies is uncertain. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, we know there's at least one team interested in trading for him.

Rosenthal reports that the Padres have interest in Franco, but says there's one important condition that would need to be met before a trade could occur. 

"For a deal to happen, the Phillies would need to acquire someone else to play short or third," Rosenthal notes.

That's because J.P. Crawford, who had been playing at third, is out with a fractured left hand. It appears that a combination of Franco, Jesmuel Valentin and recently acquired utility man Danny Espinosa will share the playing time at third for the time being.

Franco's role has recently diminished (see story), so you'd think the Phillies would probably be open to discussions with the Padres and any other interested parties, especially given their reported interest in Adrian Beltre.  

As for what the Phillies would want from the Padres, Rosenthal reports, "The Phillies undoubtedly would add to Franco to get one of the Padres' top relievers, while the Padres would be gambling on Franco returning to form knowing he has three more years of control." 

The Padres have several relievers who could interest the Phillies. Lefty closer Brad Hand has an NL-leading 21 saves in 24 opportunities, while veterans Kirby Yates and Craig Stammen are having strong seasons.

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