Phillies

Maikel Franco is ready to battle for Phillies' third base job

Maikel Franco is ready to battle for Phillies' third base job

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Maikel Franco has reported to Phillies camp early. He weighed in at 225 pounds, down 10 from the end of last season, and he looks strong. He is sporting a new leg kick at the plate. He says it will help him maintain balance throughout his swing. It all looked pretty good Thursday as he lined balls over the left field wall during batting practice.

Franco, 26, looks like a man ready to compete for a job, and that’s good because he is in for a competition. On Wednesday, manager Gabe Kapler alluded to a best-man-wins duel between Franco and Scott Kingery for the third base job (see story). On Thursday, Kapler met with Franco for 10 minutes and told him that indeed is what will happen.

“He explained everything,” Franco said. “I understand the situation.

“Every year, I come in here and I try to forget I have a position and compete and that’s what is happening right now. I just compete and don’t think about it.”

Of course, this third base competition is contingent on the Phillies standing pat at third base. They could still sign Manny Machado or Mike Moustakas and that would eliminate the competition.

Franco admitted that last season was difficult for him. On two occasions, it appeared as if he was being phased out of the lineup. An injury to J.P. Crawford thrust Franco back into the lineup in late June and he went on a two-month tear and ended up leading the team in batting average (.270). He finished second on the team in OPS (.780) and third in homers (22).

That wasn’t enough to stop the front office from pursuing Machado as a free agent. The pursuit actually began last summer when the Phils unsuccessfully tried to trade for Machado.

At home in the Dominican Republic, Franco heard plenty of Manny talk this winter. He also heard his name in trade speculation.

Is he surprised to still be with the Phillies?

“Not really,” he said. “I know they talk about trading me and things like that but I’m happy to be here with my guys and that’s a good thing.

“I’m not even thinking about what might happen. I just think about what I have to do to improve, what I have to do to get better. I just try to stay away from it all and do my job.

“Last year was tough on me. But 2018 is in the past and I’m focused on 2019.”

Maybe that’s in Philadelphia. Maybe that’s somewhere else.

“I just have to be me and do my work and get ready and whatever happens happens,” Franco said.

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The lights are dimming for Phillies after 5th straight loss with Aaron Nola on the mound

The lights are dimming for Phillies after 5th straight loss with Aaron Nola on the mound

If the Phillies are packing their bags and heading home in two weeks — as seems likely now — there will be a handful of reasons why they failed to make the playoffs for an eighth straight season.

Let’s see, they didn’t get enough from the two through five spots in the starting rotation, key players, from Andrew McCutchen to just about everyone in the bullpen, got hurt, management did not land a difference-making arm at the trade deadline, and the offense was grossly inconsistent.

There are other reasons but those are some of the biggies.

And if you’re looking for one more, this is a big one, too:

The Phillies are winless in Aaron Nola’s last five starts, a span that started August 25 in Miami and culminated Saturday night when the right-hander delivered seven innings of one-run ball only to see his team suffer a 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox in front of 40,688 at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils have 15 games left.

They are 3 ½ games out of the second NL wild-card spot behind Milwaukee and the New York Mets. The Brewers are one game back, the Mets are three back. Oh, yeah, and the Phils are in fourth place in the NL East.

“I'm not going to sugarcoat it and say we have a bunch of time left because we really don't,” Nola said after the game. “We have 15 games left. It's a good bit, but it's really not that much. We're not going to hang our heads on this one. You never know what can happen. We just have to take care of business tomorrow.”

The Phillies will send Jason Vargas to the mound against Rick Porcello in the finale of the quick, two-game interleague series.

Phillies hitters will need to do more damage against Porcello than they did lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. He struck out 12 in 6 2/3 innings. He threw 105 pitches and got 19 —19 — swings-and-misses, 16 of them on an outstanding changeup.

The only run that Rodriguez allowed came in the bottom of the seventh when he issued a two-out walk to Maikel Franco with the bases loaded.

The Phillies had just five hits (four singles) on the night and were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. They got a runner to second with no outs in the eighth but Boston reliever Matt Barnes retired J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery to end the threat.

Hoskins put a charge in the ball to right-center, but it died in Jackie Bradley Jr.’s glove.

“I thought I got it enough to at least get it over his head,” Hoskins said.

Ultimately, the Phillies lost it when Hector Neris allowed two singles, a walk and a sacrifice fly in the ninth.

Hoskins acknowledged that the lights are dimming for the Phillies, who need to go at least 6-9 in their final 15 games to have a winning season.

“It’s go time, right?” he said. “Every loss feels heavier and every win feels a lot better. A big one tomorrow to obviously try to split a series, try to create some momentum to go on the road. We know the teams that we’re playing are good, but again I’ll just kind of reiterate: if we can play our game and obviously pitch the way we did tonight and hit the way we know we can we believe and are confident that we can beat anybody.”

Nola has pitched three gems and had two poor outings in his five-start winless streak. In the gems, the Phillies have just not scored runs for him. In this one, he gave up just four hits and struck out nine in seven innings.

“It's frustrating not winning in general, whoever is on the mound,” Nola said. “It was a hard-fought game right there. Every win matters right now.”

Nola’s next start is slated to be Thursday in Atlanta. Will the Phils even be worth mentioning in the race by then?

“We’ve got to find a way to scratch out runs for Nola,” manager Gabe Kapler said.



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Bryce Harper announces release of his latest Under Armour shoe, the Harper 4 trainer

bryce_harper_instagram_under_armour_shoes.jpg
Bryce Harper Instagram

Bryce Harper announces release of his latest Under Armour shoe, the Harper 4 trainer

New drip alert!

Bryce Harper is well known for his heavy shoe swag on the field, from the sick Phillie Phanatic cleats he rocked on opening day to the Slurpee and Funyun jawns he brandished on Father’s Day.

On Friday, Harper announced the release of his latest shoe on his Instagram account, and these aren’t cleats. It’s a versatile edition to his signature Under Armour series.

The Harper 4 trainer is billed as a turf trainer, but in a video posted with the release of the shoe, Harper says, “I didn’t want it to be like a turf trainer, I really wanted it to be a trainer. Something that I could wear away from the field if I was going out to lunch or dinner or whatever and then something I could wear in the cage or at the workout facility or the gym.” 

They currently come in five colors (I’m partial to the black and white ones) and are more of a three-quarter shoe than a high top or low top. They currently retail for around $100.

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