Phillies

Maikel Franco, Carlos Santana a powerful 1-2 punch right now

Maikel Franco, Carlos Santana a powerful 1-2 punch right now

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With Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery ebbing, the Phillies' offense is being carried right now by three players: Odubel Herrera, Maikel Franco and Carlos Santana.

Herrera's recent successes have been well-documented. But Franco and Santana are making just as much of a difference right now after a poor 2017 from the third baseman and a slow April from the first baseman. 

Wednesday against the Giants, Franco and Santana had three-hit nights and Herrera walked three times to extend his on-base streak to 38 games.

Franco homered again in the 11-3 win. He's up to .292/.325/.540 on the season with seven homers and 28 RBI. Through this many games last season, Franco's power and run production were similar (five homers, 25 RBI) but he was hitting just .208/.281/.358.

We've been here before with Franco. Is this hot streak any different than the ones that have fooled us in the past? There's at least some reason to believe so. Between Franco's improved plate selection, decreasing groundball rate and ability to hit the ball the other way more often, this stretch looks and feels different.

As for Santana, he has eight extra-base hits in his last eight games. He went 3 for 5 Wednesday with a double and five RBI. Two of his run-scoring hits came with two outs, putting the Phillies up, 1-0, and then turning a three-run lead into a 5-0 lead.

It's not much of a surprise to see Santana heat up. He's a notoriously slow starter who has hit just .225 in April and .251 in all months thereafter. 

Over his last eight games, Santana has gone 10 for 34 (.294) with four doubles, three homers, a triple and 12 RBI.

The production from both players is a welcome sign for the Phillies, who got so little out of the five-spot in April.

Other notes
• The Phillies are now 14-2 against teams outside the division and 7-13 against the NL East.

Nick Pivetta delivered the kind of bounce-back start he needed with five scoreless innings and seven strikeouts (see story).

• Not that his admission was necessary, but Gabe Kapler said pregame that Jorge Alfaro and Aaron Altherr have earned their regular roles behind the plate and in right field. Andrew Knapp got the nod Wednesday, but Alfaro has started 22 of the Phillies' 36 games. Knapp had a nice night, walking and scoring in the fifth inning and singling in a run in the sixth.

• Over the last four games, Phillies starting pitchers have a 1.17 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and a .154 opponents' batting average.

• Another quick, impressive inning from Seranthony Dominguez in his second major-league appearance. He pitched another perfect inning against the Giants with a strikeout. He threw eight pitches, seven strikes, again flashing an upper-90s fastball and slider with notable downward movement.

• Bad news on Pat Neshek: He suffered a right flexor strain (elbow/forearm) while throwing a bullpen session during his shoulder rehab. More here on what the injury means.

• The Phillies activated Ben Lively off the 10-day DL and optioned him to Triple A. It was obvious that Zach Eflin would not be losing his rotation spot after dazzling in his last two starts.

• The Phillies' four-game series with the Giants concludes tomorrow at 1:05 p.m. in a Facebook-only game. Vince Velasquez (2-4, 5.14) will be opposed by left-hander Ty Blach (3-3, 3.60).

Gabe Kapler still leaning toward Cesar Hernandez as his leadoff man

Gabe Kapler still leaning toward Cesar Hernandez as his leadoff man

CLEARWATER, Fla. — When we last saw Cesar Hernandez, he was heading out the door of Citizens Bank Park after the 2018 season and looking at an uncertain winter.

The second baseman survived another offseason of trade speculation and is back with the Phillies — probably in a familiar spot in the batting order.

The Phils have upgraded their lineup with several new additions — Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto — but Hernandez appears to still be the favorite to hit in the leadoff spot.

“With Cesar and his performance in the first half last year, he is an ideal leadoff hitter,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He sees a lot of pitches, he fouls balls off, has a great eye at the plate, spits on balls in the dirt, can drive the ball out of the ballpark. Those are all things that we value in the top spot of the lineup.

“On the flipside, McCutchen has all the same characteristics. Both of those guys could be options for the leadoff spot. I think we’re going to give Cesar a long look and from my perspective, he has all the characteristics and all of the talent to take down that leadoff spot.”

Hernandez’ batting average dropped from .294 to .253 and his OPS from .793 to .718 last season. He struck out a career-high 155 times. Much of Hernandez’ decline came after he cracked a bone in his foot in early July and played through it.

Despite his struggles, Hernandez walked a career-high 95 times and maintained a solid .356 on-base percentage.

If Hernandez bats leadoff, McCutchen could hit somewhere in the middle of the order. He is a consistent 30-double, 20-homer guy.

Kapler places a lot of value in the No. 2 spot in the batting order. Newcomer Segura, who has carried a .308 batting average the last three seasons, would seem to be a good fit there.

“I think Segura could be a two-hole guy,” Kapler said. “But I also think he can hit three, too. And I think he can hit five or six. A lot of that is going to be dependent on how he's performing, how others are performing, and who the guy on the mound is.”

Kapler will communicate with players, especially the new guys, to find out if there are spots in the lineup where they feel most comfortable, but, ultimately, he is the one who will sign the lineup card.

“The thing that excites me most is, all of these guys — McCutchen, Segura, Hernandez, Rhys (Hoskins), Realmuto — all of those guys can hit one through five, one through six,” Kapler said. “And Odubel Herrera, when Odubel is on, he hits anywhere in the lineup, too, and you can't take him out of the lineup.”

This is the way things shape up in Kapler’s mind on Feb. 15. There is still a long way to go before opening day March 28. And it’s all subject to change if the Phillies are able to put Manny Machado or Bryce Harper in red pinstripes. Nothing has changed on that front. The Phils would still like to land one of them and they are awaiting an answer.

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Contact machine Jean Segura is ready to rumble in Philly

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USA Today Images

Contact machine Jean Segura is ready to rumble in Philly

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Reporters didn’t need to track down a phone number for Jean Segura to get his reaction to the trade that sent him from the Seattle Mariners to the Phillies in early December.

All they had to do was look at Segura’s social media accounts.

Moments after the deal went down, a video of Segura appeared on the Internet. He was smiling and dancing.

Segura arrived in Phillies camp on Saturday morning. He was still smiling.

“I was more happy because I’m getting an opportunity to win,” he said of his initial reaction to the deal. “Seattle is over. Now I’m in Philly. I know for sure people are going to ask me what happened in Seattle. They had their problems. Every team has their problems. Now I’m with the Phillies and I’m looking forward.”

Segura spent the last two seasons as the Mariners' starting shortstop. He played well and even signed a five-year contract extension with the club in June 2017.

The Mariners were playing well at 24 games over .500 early last July but collapsed down the stretch and didn’t make the playoffs. Team chemistry suffered. The low point came in early September when Segura and teammate Dee Gordon were involved in a pre-game fistfight. After the season, the Mariners shipped a bunch of their high-priced talent out of town. The Phillies are Segura’s fourth team in five years.

“I don’t like to fight,” Segura said. “There were a lot of people coming and saying I was the one fighting, but they don’t know what was going on. It’s over. I’m here now with new guys. I don’t want people to recognize that I’m a trouble guy in the clubhouse or a trouble guy on the team.

"I never intend to fight nobody in baseball. If a fight comes to you, you know, as a grown man, you’re not going to let it by. It’s simple. I don’t like to fight. I just want to be the best person I can be. I just want to continue moving forward as a person as a good teammate. I like to help guys, too. Help my teammates, especially now that I have a little bit of time in the big leagues.”

Segura said everything is good between him and Gordon now.

“We cool,” he said. “Brothers always fight. Sometimes you need to fight with your brother to be cool. I’m cool, man. I don’t like to fight. I’m cool. I’m a great guy. Maybe social media says different or you guys maybe. But if you get comfortable and talk to me about it you’ll see a different type of guy.”

Segura turns 29 in March. He is signed through 2022 and should be able to solidify shortstop for the Phillies until top prospect Luis Garcia is ready. Garcia, 18, led the Gulf Coast League in hitting (.369) and was third in on-base percentage (.433) last season. Those who've seen him play say he has the goods.

The Phillies needed to improve their offense after finishing last in the NL in hits (1,270) and batting average (.234) in 2018. In particular, they needed more production out of the shortstop position. Last season, their shortstops hit .235 with a .651 OPS. Those marks ranked 27th and 28th, respectively, in the majors.

Segura will provide a big lift. He is a contact machine who led the majors with 203 hits in 2016. Over the last three seasons, he has hit .308 (eighth-best in the majors) with a .803 OPS. His 538 hits are the seventh most in the majors over the last three seasons. His 75 stolen bases rank 11th over that span.

“I like to put the ball in play a lot because when you put the ball in play there’s a lot of opportunity to create runs, to get a base hit and be part of the game,” Segura said. “That’s one of my biggest things: put the ball in play and make a lot of contact. With my speed, a lot of things can happen.”

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