Phillies

Phillies

Thursday was the kind of day Maikel Franco needed to have early in the season, and the kind of day he'll need to keep having to stave off his infield competition.

It still wasn't enough to get a definitive answer from his manager on whether he'd start Saturday.

Franco drove in all but one run in the Phillies' 5-0 win over the Marlins in their home opener. He singled in their first two runs and crushed a two-run homer in the seventh. In between, he hit a triple to deep center that was nearly a home run.

One game means little in the grand scheme and it's not like we've never seen a powerful game from Franco before. But what did stick out was the way he fought back in his ABs. He fell down 0-2 before the two-run single and was down 1-2 before the triple.

"I saw a lot of battle (with Franco)," manager Gabe Kapler said after his first win in South Philly. "He got down in a couple of counts and was able to battle back and get two monster hits for us. 

"The line drive trajectory on his ball has been really consistent from spring training to this point. He hasn't always had much to show for it but I can tell you the feeling of being in the batter's box and hitting balls on the nose gives you confidence in your next at-bats and eventually that confidence leads to results, it leads to balls falling on outfield grass and it leads to balls going into the gaps and into the seats like it did for Frankie today. Really happy for him."

 

Even so, Kapler would not commit to starting Franco in the Phils' next game. He should, given that the Phillies face another mediocre lefty starting pitcher in Dillon Peters and shortstop J.P. Crawford is scuffling mightily at the plate. Kapler could start Scott Kingery at shortstop like he did in Game 3 and keep Franco in the lineup.

That's not the Phillies' best defensive arrangement — Kingery is passable at short but probably not a long-term option there — but it's the better offensive arrangement with Crawford looking as lost as he currently does. Crawford's swing right now is very long. He's swinging like Joey Gallo, just without the pop. That's got to change. 

"I'm pretty confident. (Crawford) got off to a little bit of a slower start last year," Kapler said. "He wasn't always perfect in his Triple A performance. But the one thing that's been consistent about J.P. is he manages an at-bat. He controls the strike zone. He's good at seeing a lot of pitches. He walks. That's consistent. That you can depend on. You can't depend on balls falling in for base hits. But you can depend on controlling the strike zone. He does that very well."

That's Crawford's reputation, but he hasn't done that all too well lately either. It's far too early to give up on him, but when you have an infield surplus, you've got to go with who's hottest.

Right now, that's Franco. He joined Ryan Howard (2013) and Chase Utley (2010) as the only Phillies since 1962 with both a homer and a triple in a game in the first week of the season. And he's the only player in the majors so far this season with a homer, triple and at least four RBI in a game.

Franco, who's started four of the Phillies' six games, claims not to care about the irregular playing time. We'll see if that's still the case in a few months — if he's still here. The best way to help build his trade value is to give him as many early-season at-bats as possible, especially when he's seeing the ball well.