Phillies

Kapler won't commit to Maikel Franco, even after a huge afternoon

Kapler won't commit to Maikel Franco, even after a huge afternoon

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.

The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

The hero again, Jay Bruce making a huge impact on the field and on his Phillies teammates

Imagine where this Phillies team would be without Jay Bruce.

When the Phillies acquired Bruce from Seattle on June 2, it was to be a platoon outfielder and extra bench bat, a player who could come off the pine, pop one and change the game.

Less than a month later, he's become one of the most instrumental bats in their lineup.

Bruce did what no other Phillie has done this season: delivered a walk-off win. His line shot off Stephen Nogosek in the 10th inning Wednesday sailed over the head of centerfielder Juan Lagares (who was playing much shallower than you'd expect) and sent the Phillies' dugout into a frenzy with a 5-4 win (see observations). Rookie Edgar Garcia, the winning pitcher, rushed to dump the Gatorade jug over Bruce's head. The party was on.

Make that three straight nights the Phillies have come back to beat the plummeting Mets. They overcame a two-run deficit Monday, a three-run deficit Tuesday and a four-run deficit Wednesday. It's probably best they don't continue the pattern.

"I don't think there's any way I could actually express it in words, how important he's been to the club," manager Gabe Kapler said of Bruce. "He spent a tremendous amount of time in the clubhouse getting to know our players very quickly. You guys have seen how many big hits he's gotten for us and how clutch he's been.

"I talked to him this morning about the possibility of maybe giving him a day. We have some [right-handed starting pitching opponents] coming up. I thought maybe it might be a good time to get him off his feet. It wasn't a push or anything. It was an open conversation between two grown-ups. He said, 'I'm in there. Not only am I in there, but I give the Phillies the best chance to win a baseball game.' And as he was coming off the field right there, he said, 'I told you.' And I believe him.

"Everything he has said has been true — from the time he got to the Phillies, from the time he walked into my office in San Diego and said he was still a strong enough defender to put out there every day, that his body was capable of bouncing back. He's proven that to be true. That he can hit left-handed pitching. He's proven that to be true. I'll never doubt another word that Jay Bruce says."

As a Phillie, Bruce has hit .294 with an OPS just under 1.000. He has seven home runs, four doubles and 20 RBI in 19 games. Keep in mind, his arrival coincided with the season-ending injury to Andrew McCutchen, Odubel Herrera's arrest, and the beginning of cold spells for Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez.

Bruce's bat has, in many ways, kept the Phillies afloat and prevented further disaster in the month of June.

"Jay's an awesome guy. He brings energy to the field every day, he's happy, he competes," said Nick Pivetta, who had a rough outing. "I've faced him before, he's not an easy out. He's really helping us do a lot of great things. It's been a pleasure to watch him play."

Bruce is no stranger to walk-off hits. This was the 12th of his career. In the span of 19 games, he has been the key hitter in at least five and probably six of the Phillies' 10 wins. Metrics like Win Probability Added and Wins Above Replacement are more complicated than just accounting for game-winning or game-breaking hits, but Bruce has literally added a few more wins to the Phillies' total than they'd otherwise have. 

He has shown how much added value an acquisition can bring when it's completed far ahead of the trade deadline.

"I definitely, and you can ask anybody, I want to be the guy up at the plate with a chance to end it," Bruce said. "But I think that you learn throughout your career how to approach and how to handle those situations. The biggest message I talk to myself every single at-bat in a situation like that is to just do less. Try to do less. Try not to force the situation. All the cliches, start taking it pitch by pitch.

"These guys have made it so easy on me, man. It’s been unbelievable. They’ve been so great as far as kind of welcoming me, allowing me to be myself, integrating myself in the clubhouse. I think one of the things I feel is the most important when you get traded — now being traded four times — is integrating yourself in the clubhouse. Being a little vulnerable, opening up, getting to know guys, kind of understanding how guys tick and what the team is like. I think that’s really important."

Moments after Bruce finished answering questions, he grabbed an adult beverage, pulled up a chair and joined the circle of Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery, Andrew Knapp and Sean Rodriguez in conversation.

"Ray Bjuce!" Knapp yelled, a nickname that probably won't stick.

It feels like Bruce has been with the Phillies a lot longer than 24 days.

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Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

Phillies 5, Mets 4 (10 innings): Phillies come back for 3rd straight night, notch 1st walk-off of 2019

BOX SCORE 

It took 80 games but the Phillies have their first walk-off win of 2019. Jay Bruce smoked an RBI double over the centerfielder's head in the bottom of the 10th to give the Phillies a 5-4 win and a third straight victory over the Mets.

The Phillies came back from a two-run deficit to win Game 1, a three-run deficit to win Game 2 and a four-run deficit to win Game 3. The Mets' bullpen has been a total disaster, especially lately, which made beleaguered Mets manager Mickey Callaway's decision to pull starter Jason Vargas after just 77 pitches across 6⅓ mostly dominant innings even more strange.

The Phillies took advantage of that highly questionable decision in the sixth inning, scoring three runs on an RBI double by Cesar Hernandez and a game-tying, bases-loaded two-run single by Jean Segura, who homered an inning earlier.

Hernandez has six straight multi-hit games. Segura has nine home runs, just one fewer than he had last season.

The Phillies are 42-38; the Mets are 37-44.

Happy to see you go

The Phillies were thrilled to see Vargas exit this game. The veteran finesse lefty matched a career-high with 10 strikeouts over 6⅓ innings and allowed just five of the 24 batters he faced to reach base. 

Callaway, who has come under tremendous fire lately for the team's poor performance, his questionable managerial decisions and his tirade toward a Newsday reporter over the weekend, pulled Vargas after 77 pitches for reliever Seth Lugo. He did it despite the fact that every Mets setup man has failed this month to get the ball from the starting pitcher to closer Edwin Diaz. 

From a Phillies perspective, it paid off, just as it did 24 hours earlier when Callaway turned to his worst reliever, Wilmer Font, with the game on the line in the decisive sixth inning.

Another stressful night for Pivetta 

It was not a strong night for Nick Pivetta, who allowed a pair of solo homers and four runs total over 5⅔ innings. 

The most surprising aspect of Pivetta's start was the lack of whiffs. Just two of the 40 fastballs he threw resulted in a swinging strike and both were by the opposing pitcher, Vargas. Pivetta struck out only three batters and two were Vargas, who singled in his first AB.

Pivetta allowed a baserunner in every inning and pitched out of the stretch to 17 of the 29 batters he faced.

In six starts since returning from his stint in the minors, Pivetta has a 4.30 ERA and has allowed nine home runs in 37 innings. The Phillies are 2-4 in those games.

Phillies starting pitchers have allowed 15 runs in 16⅔ innings in the series.

Add McNeil to the list

Of Phillie-killers, that is. The guy is just a really good hitter. Strong contact skills, sneaky power, hits pitchers from both sides. McNeil followed Tuesday's four-hit game by going 2 for 4 with a solo homer, an RBI double and a walk.

In 20 career games against the Phillies, McNeil has hit .456 with 11 extra-base hits in 85 plate appearances (36-79).

Draft news

According to a source, Phillies first-round pick Bryson Stott is in Philadelphia for a physical. GM Matt Klentak had said Monday the Phillies expected to sign Stott this week. The deal could be completed as soon as Thursday morning.

Up next

The four-game series concludes tomorrow afternoon at 1:05 when Aaron Nola (6-2, 4.55) takes on Zack Wheeler (6-5, 4.69).

Wheeler has been as up-and-down this season as Nola. In his last start, Wheeler allowed one run to the Cubs over seven innings. His prior two times out, he allowed 14 runs on 20 hits in 10⅔ innings.

The Phillies faced Wheeler twice in one week in April. In those two games, Wheeler gave up three runs in seven innings in a Mets loss and went seven scoreless with 11 punchouts in a Mets win.

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