Phillies

Wild-swinging Maikel Franco gets a night off for Phillies

Wild-swinging Maikel Franco gets a night off for Phillies

Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco was out of the starting lineup for five games last week.
 
Friday night, Franco was out of the lineup again.
 
The latest night off had nothing to do with the sore thumb that bothered him last week. This was performance based.
 
“Poor guy, he's scuffling,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He's swinging wild again. Every time he swings, his helmet falls off … just like the roof falls off.”
 
Franco, who turned 24 three weeks ago, is wrapping up his first full season in the big leagues. He is hitting .246 with 22 homers, 75 RBIs and a .714 OPS in 137 games. The production is solid, but not on par with what the third baseman did last season when he hit .280 with 14 homers, 50 RBIs and a .840 OPS in 80 games.
 
Franco has struggled since the All-Star break, hitting .242 with just a .696 OPS.
 
Since Aug. 23, he’s hitting .203 with no homers, four doubles, three RBIs and a .470 OPS. He hasn’t homered since Aug. 18 and has just two in his last 144 at-bats.
 
“He’s caught up in something and he can’t get out of it,” Mackanin said. “That’s why I gave him a day off. Mentally, it’s a drain on you. You try to figure it out. Nothing is working. That last at-bat he had [Thursday night], he looked like he was trying to hit the ball out of the stadium. That would have been a perfect time to say, 'I'm just going to try to hit a single up the middle.' Just the time to work on it, in-game.

"It looks like Maikel is trying to do too much."
 
Phillies officials would like to see Franco not be so pull-happy and homer conscious. He’s strong enough that putting a good swing on the ball and trying to use the middle of the field will result in home runs when he makes good contact.
 
Sometimes less is more.
 
Mackanin recently talked about that with Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, who had similar issues as Franco as a young player.
 
“Schmitty told me that after his first year when he struck out a lot, he went to winter ball and purposely tried not swinging as hard to see what would happen," Mackanin said. "The first time he did, he hit a double off the wall. And he came to realize that he didn't have to swing as hard as he was swinging. And from that point on, it changed his whole career around. That's something that a player has to come to that understanding. Just take the macho out of hitting. If the line drive is only 90 miles an hour instead of 110 miles an hour, it's still a line drive.”
 
Franco would like to play winter ball in the month of November back home in the Dominican Republic and work on becoming more selective at the plate.
 
The Phillies really could stand to bring in a good veteran bat to take some pressure of Franco next season. Mackanin has already expressed his desire to bring in a “professional hitter.”

Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in to play in 2020 ... for now

Zack Wheeler is all in.

For now.

The Phillies' big off-season acquisition on Sunday said he was committed to pitching this season, but he left the door open wide enough to back out.

"Yeah, definitely," Wheeler said when asked if he had considered opting out of the season like several other prominent big leaguers have done.

"We just have to see how things are here at the field and at the stadium. I'm happy with what I see so far. But things could change, especially once our baby's born. I always think about what's going on around me. Is it safe? Is it OK? Literally every single day. I have to just ask myself that. I'm going to continue to keep asking myself that every day."

Wheeler's wife, Dominique, is due to give birth to the couple's first child in about three weeks.

That's an anxious time to begin with.

Now, add in a pandemic.

Sheesh.

"It's a very difficult decision," Wheeler said. "It's something that is still playing in my head. I have to be very careful here at the field, outside of the field, wherever I go. The baby's and Dominique's health is most important to me. So whatever I can do to make sure they are safe, that is the No. 1 goal for me. Baseball comes after that."

Wheeler has expressed his concerns to team officials, including manager Joe Girardi.

Frankly, every person affiliated with the club has the same concerns about the health and safety of their families.

"We've chit-chatted here and there," Wheeler said. "I think they know what position I'm in. I think we are going to sit down and talk about that. But we haven't done it yet. I've been happy with what's gone on so far here (with health and safety protocols). 

"But, yeah, I'm definitely going to sit down with Joe and whoever else just to reiterate that. I'll let them know how I am feeling. Joe's a family guy. Family comes first to him. That's the first thing he told me when I talked to him on the phone right after I signed. 'Family is first.' I know he recognizes that. He knows the situation I'm in. He loves his kids. He's a good guy. He is one of the reasons why I signed here."

There are a number of players in MLB whose wives are expecting. Mike Trout is one and he has expressed reservations about playing and compromising his family's safety.

Wheeler was asked if he believed MLB should step in and make a blanket decision for players whose wives are pregnant.

"Maybe they could have put that label on guys with pregnant wives. I do believe that," Wheeler said. "I think they did a nice job with everything else. But there are a lot of guys with pregnant wives right now, whether it's later on in the pregnancy, early on in the pregnancy, they are at risk. It's a very serious thing as we all know. Maybe they should have thought about that a little bit more. I don't know. Like I said, I can only worry about myself and do as much as I can personally to protect my wife."

Wheeler signed a five-year, $118 million contract in December.

Players who opt out of the season do not get paid their prorated salaries unless they have an underlying health condition that makes playing too risky.

Baseball-wise, Wheeler is on a good track. During the shutdown, he maintained his throwing program back home in Georgia. He got up to 80 pitches in his bullpen sessions at home and faced hitters in camp on Saturday. With the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Nola — he's throwing at a nearby facility but has not joined the team for official workouts — Wheeler could end up starting the season opener July 23 or 24.

That is, if the virus allows for a season opener. 

And all is well at home.

Wheeler expects to take the permitted three days paternity leave once the baby arrives. Then he will need to go through testing and health protocols before rejoining the team. He estimated that he would miss at least a start, maybe two.

The Phillies are prepared for sudden changes in their pitching rotations. Girardi said he'll have relievers piggybacked with each starter and a five-man starting staff with the backup club in Lehigh Valley.

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COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

COVID-19 cases and player opt-outs mounting across MLB

The Phillies have four players on the COVID-19 injured list (Hector Neris, Ranger Suarez, Scott Kingery and Tommy Hunter) and three more who have yet to arrive in camp because of coronavirus protocols (Aaron Nola, Adam Haseley and Christian Bethancourt).

We’re already seeing how unsteady and unpredictable this 60-game season will be. Nola is the Phillies’ best starting pitcher and Neris is their best reliever. Kingery is their starting second baseman. Haseley was set to start or split time in center field. Suarez was in the race for the fifth starter’s job.

So much for the Phillies would change without them, and it’s reasonable to expect at least a few of them will miss time early in the season. Phillies lefty Cole Irvin said Saturday he thinks it could take pitchers up to six weeks to return from coronavirus because it would require two weeks of quarantine, then the resumption of throwing, then a few bullpen sessions. The severity of cases varies, but it looks like it will generally cost pitchers more time than position players.

The best hitter in the NL East, Freddie Freeman, is also dealing with COVID-19 and is not feeling well at all right now, according to his wife Chelsea. Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters Saturday "it will be a while 'til we can get him back." It totally changes the Braves’ equation and 2020 chances if their rock is missing for a third of the season.

Will Smith, Atlanta’s top-tier lefty reliever signed to a three-year, $39 million in the offseason, also tested positive. Then on Saturday, Braves starting pitcher Felix Hernandez opted out of the season, as did their first base coach Eric Young Sr. Four Marlins players tested positive as well.

Yankees All-Star infielder D.J. LeMahieu tested positive.  So did Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Twins slugger Miguel Sano, Padres outfielder Tommy Pham and Indians speedster Delino DeShields Jr. Last week, Charlie Blackmon tested positive. There are at least another dozen known or suspected cases around the league with more, surely, to come.

On Friday, Mike Trout said "Honestly, I still don’t feel comfortable" about the season ahead with a pregnant wife.

On Saturday, Dodgers left-hander David Price opted out of the season because of health and family concerns, joining King Felix, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Leake and Joe Ross. Buster Posey is reportedly mulling the decision too.

Other than that ... decent first weekend of camp?

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