Phased-out but not checked-out, Maikel Franco plows on in diminished role

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Phased-out but not checked-out, Maikel Franco plows on in diminished role

Maikel Franco was not in the Phillies’ starting lineup for a fourth straight game Sunday. He was held out of the lineup Friday and Saturday because he has a little head cold, but, frankly, that sounded like a convenient excuse.

Franco said Sunday morning that he comes to the park ready to play every day. He was groomed to be an everyday player, but after two months of inconsistency — and more dating to last season — he now finds himself as a part-time player, picking up reps at third base when J.P. Crawford isn’t getting a look at the position.

Though management has denied it, it feels as if Franco is being phased out. He does not have the on-base skills that manager Gabe Kapler and the front office seeks in the players it wants to build around. He has not made the necessary improvements in that area that would secure his future with the club and it’s no secret that Manny Machado looms out there as a July trade target or free-agent signing possibility.

It’s not an easy time for Franco, who is one of the most likable people in the Phillies clubhouse.

“I understand what's happening right now,” he said Sunday morning. “I understand what the manager is trying to do with everybody. I know the situation.”

With Machado looming and the team looking for a place for Scott Kingery to play, Franco, whose .690 OPS was the lowest among 18 third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances last season, was on a short leash coming into this season. He let the regular third base job slip through his fingers by hitting just .247 with a .704 OPS in his first 190 at-bats. He did have eight homers and 32 RBIs over that span.

Lately, however, Franco’s performance has really slipped. Since May 16, he is hitting .197 (13 for 66) with just two extra-base hits and a .500 OPS, and his defense has been unsteady. With Kingery now getting reps at shortstop, third base became a place for the team to look at Crawford as he came off the disabled list last week.

Both Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak have said that Franco will get time against left-handed pitching and as other matchups warrant, but it’s clear the team has lost some faith in him. If it hadn’t, he’d be out there.

“The only thing that I know is I have faith in me,” Franco said. “That's the only truth. Every single day, I just come in and try to do my best for me, for my team, and try to be a good teammate.”

Franco was groomed to be an everyday guy. There are pluses to his game, such as how hard he hits the ball when he makes good contact. He is still young at 25. He seems like a candidate for a fresh start with a new team. What does Franco think about that?

“I’m not looking at it that way,” he said. “I’m just looking day to day here and seeing what’s going to happen. I don’t want to think about that right now. I just want to think about right here because my moment is right here. That’s where I have to be right now. Whatever happens happens. I’m a grown man. I understand the situation and I totally get it. I want what’s best for me, you know what I mean? But whatever situation and whatever tough moment it is right now, I’ll just take it. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I know I can do better. I know my talent. I’m just trying to be ready.”

That’s all a part-time player can do, try to stay sharp and be ready when the manager calls on you.

“I’ve never been in that situation before,” he said of the challenges of playing part-time. “I can’t tell you if it’s going to work or not. I’m not used to it because all my career, even in the minor leagues, I played every single day. When I came here I played every single day, too. I don’t know if that’s going to work. I don’t know how that’s going to go. But I’ll just try to figure it out. I’ll just do everything that I can do to improve that situation. We’ll see what’s going to happen.”

Gabe Kapler soaks in the sting of elimination, stores it for motivation next season

Gabe Kapler soaks in the sting of elimination, stores it for motivation next season

ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler knows what the Atlanta Braves were feeling as they streamed euphorically out of the dugout Saturday after clinching the National League East with a 5-3 win over the Phillies. As a player, Kapler was a World Series champion with the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Nonetheless, Kapler lingered on the top step of the dugout and watched the Braves celebrate for several moments after they had eliminated his Phillies from contention (see story).

“I think it's important to feel the blow of that,” Kapler said. “Because up until a couple of days ago, I felt like we had a chance to be the ones having that moment at our ballpark. And I never came off that position because I always thought it to be possible, and I always believed in the players in that room. I think there's some value in just allowing the sting of that to sink in and acknowledge it and use it as motivation for next season.”

The Braves are NL East champs for the first time since 2013. They went 68-93 in 2016 and 72-90 last year, finishing 25 games out of first place. The Braves considered replacing manager Brian Snitker after last season. They stuck with him and now he is a strong candidate for NL manager of the year.

Kapler’s name was being mentioned as a manager of the year candidate when the Phillies were 15 games over .500 and leading the division by 1½ games on Aug. 5. The Phillies are 15-28 since then. There are eight games remaining in the season and the Phils need to win half of them to have their first winning season since 2011. They went 66-96 last season. 

Beyond saying that Aaron Nola would make his scheduled start Sunday, Kapler was not ready to say how he would approach the final eight games of the season.

“This is a really important moment to reflect back to the beginning of the season and even the offseason,” he said. “Yes, we feel disappointment. But if we had said that we were going to be playing a meaningful game on Sept. 22, I think a lot of people would've said that that's not a reasonable thought. On the flip side, this is ultimately a sting. This hurts. But I'm really proud of the guys in that room for putting us in this position and for fighting to be in Atlanta with kind of the season on the line today.”

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Jake Arrieta, Rhys Hoskins take responsibility in wake of Phillies’ elimination

Jake Arrieta, Rhys Hoskins take responsibility in wake of Phillies’ elimination


ATLANTA — There were no excuses from two of the biggest names in the Phillies clubhouse.

Jake Arrieta didn’t get the job done Saturday and he said as much.

Rhys Hoskins didn’t get the job done down the stretch and he said as much.

The Phillies have breathed their last in the National League East race. Their long, painful collapse became official in a 5-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday (see first take). The Braves are NL East champions for the first time since 2013. They trailed the Phillies by 1 ½ game on Aug. 5 then went 27-20 to eliminate the Phillies. The Phils are 15-28 since being 15 games over .500 on Aug. 5.

The slow fade culminated with Arrieta lasting just two innings Saturday. He issued a four-pitch walk to three of the first four batters he faced and gave up four hits and four runs in the shortest start of his career. There was no politicking to try to stay in the game.

“If I did, my case wouldn’t have been very good,” Arrieta said. “I didn’t do my job today. You’ve got to tip your cap. They won the division. They really did.

“This wasn’t something that started today, obviously. Individually, the last month or so I haven’t been very good and we didn’t really take care of our business to get the job done. They did. That’s why we have the result we have.

“Defense, pitching and we didn’t swing the bats well. That’s all phases of the game that we weren’t as good and I think that’s pretty obvious.”

In March, the Phillies signed Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract — his $30 million salary this season is the largest ever for a Philadelphia athlete — because they believed his talent and veteran experience would be valuable in snapping a long postseason drought.

The 32-year-old right-hander failed to deliver down the stretch. He has a 6.64 ERA over his last eight starts. In 12 starts after the all-star break, his ERA is 5.09.

“This game is humbling,” Arrieta said. “You don’t always have it figured out and when you feel like you do you get kicked in the teeth. I’m not blaming it on anything other than just not being very good.”

With eight games to go, Hoskins is hitting .247 with 32 homers and 93 RBIs in his first full big-league season. At 25, he is a core building block for the future. But like Arrieta, he expected more from himself down the stretch. He is hitting just .204 with a .729 OPS over his last 44 games. He was hitless in 12 at-bats in the series before an RBI single in the eighth inning Saturday.

“It's disappointing,” Hoskins said in the postgame clubhouse. “You probably see that on a lot of our faces.

“I take a lot of responsibility for it. I wasn't me. That's frustrating and disappointing. But all you can do is learn from it.

“The inconsistency is frustrating. That's what makes good players great. I think it comes as a learned skill. All I can do is take what has happened, albeit disappointing, and learn from it and move forward with it.”

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