Phillies

Phillies have a chance to see players in future roles over final 17 games

Phillies have a chance to see players in future roles over final 17 games

The final 17 games of the season will allow the Phillies to take a look at some young players, some players who need to recoup lost time and some players worthy of being evaluated at different positions or in new roles.

To wit:

• Jerad Eickhoff was the team’s top starting pitcher two years ago. He has dealt with injuries the past two seasons and has not made a start in the majors this season. Getting him a start or two could be good for his mindset heading into the offseason and give the front office a hint of where he might fit in 2019. Getting Eickhoff a start would also allow the Phils to trim some innings from other starters such as Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta. All have reached career-high innings totals.

• It hasn’t been the year anyone expected for J.P. Crawford. The team traded veteran shortstop Freddy Galvis to clear a spot for Crawford but he failed to secure the regular job early in the season. He struggled offensively and defensively, ended up on the disabled list, got some looks at third base then ended up on the disabled list again before being sent to the minors. Crawford is back and got his first start at shortstop since June on Wednesday night and had three of the Phillies’ five hits, including a homer. Look for Crawford to get more time at shortstop and possibly third base as the Phils keep their options open for the offseason. It’s quite possible that Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez will be moved in the offseason and that will create an infield shuffle. It’s possible that next year’s infield could consist of Rhys Hoskins at first base, Scott Kingery at second, Crawford at third and Manny Machado at shortstop. The Phils still plan a big run at Machado.

• According to sources, Phillies officials have at least discussed the idea of improving their outfield defense by trading Carlos Santana and moving Hoskins back to first base, which would create a spot in left field for Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley, who could be knocking on the door by the middle of next summer. Getting Hoskins some time at first base down the stretch might be a harbinger of this.

• Kingery has improved greatly at shortstop and hats off to him for that. He has shown mental toughness surviving a difficult season and that will benefit him in the future. Getting him some looks at second base, his best position, in the final weeks would seem to make some sense because it still feels like his long-term position with the club.

• Last year at this time, Phillies officials started mulling the idea of converting Seranthony Dominguez from starter to reliever. It made sense because Dominguez was basically a two-pitch guy with power stuff. A year later, you have to wonder if the Phils are contemplating a similar transition for Enyel De Los Santos, the pitcher they got from San Diego for Freddy Galvis. De Los Santos had a strong season as a starter at Triple A and is in the majors now. His breaking ball is inconsistent, but he has a plus fastball and a usable changeup. De Los Santos pitched two scoreless innings of relief and struck out two on Wednesday night. His fastball averaged 95.8 mph and topped out at 98. After the game, manager Gabe Kapler said De Los Santos showed a “good fastball-changeup combination. We asked him to rely on those two pitches, not exclusively, but certainly looking at those two pitches as a way to come out of the bullpen.” We’ll probably see more of this as the Phillies pinpoint De Los Santos’ future role.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman break down potential compromises between MLB players and owners to get a deal done and baseball back on our screens.

• Gut-feelings/educated guesses: Will there be a 2020 MLB season?

• How can these sides stop circling around each other and find a compromise?

• Ideas for a pay structure.

• What would a 50-game or 60-game season look like schedule-wise?

• Phillies and other clubs hemorrhaging money right now.

• Memories from next week's classic Phillies-Dodgers NLCS re-air.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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