ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Maikel Franco arrived at Tropicana Field on Friday afternoon, looked at the Phillies lineup card and learned he would not start for the second time in three games.
Sitting in the clubhouse, the third baseman said he was not upset.
An hour later, his body language seemed to say something different.
During batting practice, Franco had about a 12-minute conversation with manager Gabe Kapler near first base. Franco, at times, appeared emotional as he spoke with Kapler. First baseman Carlos Santana, a fellow Dominican who has become a mentor to Franco, and Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish language translator, were also involved in the discussion. Kapler, who is committed to “communicating relentlessly” with his players, initiated the conversation. He confirmed that the topic was about playing time.
Franco, one of the most personable and upbeat players on the team, brushed off a question about the conversation after batting practice. He said it was about something “outside of baseball.” Earlier, he had vowed to do his pregame work and be ready if called upon.
“Of course, I want to play but this is something I can’t control,” he said.
While it's commendable that Franco did not want to make waves, the matter once again illustrated how potentially unwieldy Kapler’s plan to get all of his players game reps may end up being. Franco sat in favor of Scott Kingery, whose play warrants being in the lineup. But Franco was hot, driving in 11 runs in the first four games of the team’s recent 5-1 homestand, before sitting out the fifth game and taking an 0-fer in the sixth game.
Among Phillies players, only Santana had a history (1 for 2) against Jake Faria, Tampa Bay's starter Friday night.
Kapler was asked if he saw something in the matchup that led him to sit Franco.
“Nothing specifically," he said. "We just really wanted to get a few other people in the lineup."
Franco will likely play Saturday night at third base or as the designated hitter. But then what happens to Kingery? Will he bump shortstop J.P. Crawford, who the team is committed to developing, someone in the outfield, or perhaps second baseman Cesar Hernandez?
It’s a nightly lineup puzzle for Kapler and 11 games into the season it has made some players unhappy, starting with Odubel Herrera on opening day, to Nick Williams and his computer lineup comment, and now to Franco, who despite saying otherwise, clearly isn’t happy to see his hot bat be placed in the fridge.
Kapler remains consistent: He says this can all work and that everyone is going to get the reps needed to be happy, healthy and productive.
Time will tell.
As for Franco, who had some rhythm going before his absence from the lineup …
“We actually think that he’ll have plenty of opportunities to get into those rhythms and he'll likely play in a nice little stretch going forward,” Kapler said. “It’s just a big puzzle and we want to make sure everybody is getting into the lineup. Every day we’re going to come to the ballpark and one person is not going to play that day and we understand that’s going to be tough and we’ll address with the players individually and remind them that they’re going to play a lot going forward and have opportunities to get into really good rhythms.”