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Nearly exiled, Maikel Franco is now one of Phillies' MVPs

Nearly exiled, Maikel Franco is now one of Phillies' MVPs

Yes, Maikel Franco hits eighth in the Phillies’ lineup. But that doesn’t mean he’s a, you know, No. 8 hitter. He profiles as a middle-of-the-order, drive-the-ball-for-power hitter who, in this lineup, just so happens to hit eighth because the front office went out this winter and added new bats at the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 spots.

So when Franco comes up with the bases loaded and his team down a run late in the game, he has the mindset of a middle-of-the-order hitter.

“Get a good pitch that I can drive,” he said.

Franco did just that in the bottom of the seventh inning Wednesday night. His three-run double to the gap in right-center brought the Phils back from a run down and helped propel them to a 7-3 win over the Detroit Tigers.

Franco, who has spent the bulk of the season hitting eighth, is tied with cleanup man Rhys Hoskins for the team lead with 25 RBIs.

Hoskins clubbed his team-best ninth home run in the bottom of the eighth inning to give the Phils some breathing room. They had scored one or zero runs in five of their previous nine games so putting seven on the board — six in their last two at-bats — qualified as a mini explosion.

“It was a good team win,” said Aaron Nola, who pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball but did not figure in the decision. “We came up later in the game and started scoring some runs and put it to them.”

The Phils’ offense was sluggish again in the first six innings. If there was a flashpoint for the offense it was J.T. Realmuto’s one-out double in the seventh. A hit batsman and a single by Cesar Hernandez loaded the bases for the Phillies’ very dangerous No. 8 hitter.

Franco had been mired in an 0-for-10 funk before he stroked a high sinker from Victor Alcantara to right-center to clear the bases.

“I know I was 0 for 10,” Franco said. “But I try not to think too much, just try to go out there and do the best for my team. It was a good situation for me and I had success.”

Franco has had 48 career at-bats with the bases loaded. He has driven in 44 runs in those situations. Twenty-three of Franco’s 25 RBIs this season have come out of the No. 8 spot.

If the Phillies had traded for Manny Machado last July or signed him this winter, Franco would not be here. He heard all the rumors. He knew he was the Phillies’ Plan B, maybe even Plan C or D, at third base coming into spring training. Heck, there was a time last season when he was benched so the Phillies could gauge J.P. Crawford’s ability to play third base.

Through it all, the rumors and the one-way tickets out of town, Franco never got down. His relentlessly upbeat attitude and ability to make some adjustments/improvements at the plate are reasons he is one of this team’s early-season MVPs.

The additions of Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper and Realmuto over the winter lengthened the Phillies’ lineup and pushed Franco to the No. 8 spot. There’s some thought behind the placement. One, he gives the Phils some thunder down there. And, two, Franco can be a free swinger. Hitting in front of the pitcher forces him to concentrate on being more selective. It’s working. He’s a force in that spot — even though he really does not care where he hits.

“I just try to go out there and do what I can to get my team better,” he said.

Because of injuries, manager Gabe Kapler has been forced to move Franco up in the lineup a few times recently. But now the Phils are getting healthy and they have their No. 8 hole threat back.

“He's been especially comfortable down there and he's been especially productive down there,” Kapler said. “I don't feel the need to change a really good thing right now.”

Good.

Why mess with success?

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Phillies 7, Tigers 3: The bats finally come alive

Phillies 7, Tigers 3: The bats finally come alive

BOX SCORE

The Phillies’ recently feeble offense came alive late in Wednesday night’s game and led the way to a 7-3 win over the Detroit Tigers in an interleague game at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils had scored one or zero runs in five of their previous nine games and they entered the bottom of the seventh inning trailing, 2-1, in this one.

They rallied for four runs in that inning to take the lead and padded it with two more runs in the eighth.

The win improved the Phillies to 4-2 on the homestand and 12-6 at home overall.

They lead the NL East at 17-13.

Key moments

• The Phils’ offense slogged through the first six innings. J.T. Realmuto’s one-out double down the right-field line gave the Phils some life in the bottom of the seventh. The Phils then loaded the bases when Sean Rodriguez was hit by a pitch and Cesar Hernandez singled. That brought up Maikel Franco, riding an 0-for 10-skid. Franco got a high sinker from Victor Alcantara and laced it to right-center to clear the bases and give the Phils a lead. Franco leads the Phils with 25 RBIs.

Andrew McCutchen added an RBI single later in the inning.

• Aaron Nola gave up a leadoff double in the top of the first inning but froze the runner there with two strikeouts and a ground out. It was a big stop for the right-hander early in the game.

• Rhys Hoskins clubbed his team-high ninth homer in the bottom of the eighth and Phil Gosselin added an RBI double to give Edubray Ramos plenty of breathing room to close it out in the ninth.

Nola’s night

The right-hander scattered seven hits and a run over 5 2/3 innings. Five of Nola’s six strikeouts came on curveballs. However, he got hurt on the pitch when JaCoby Jones hit a 1-1 curveball for a two-out single that tied the game at 1-1 in the sixth.

Nola has given up just two runs in 12 1/3 innings over his last two starts.

Health check

Looks like Odubel Herrera will come off the injured list later in this homestand. Details here.

Up next

The Phils are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Washington Nationals on Friday night. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday night – RHP Jerad Eickhoff (1-1, 2.12) vs. RHP Jeremy Hellickson (2-0, 5.82)

Saturday night – RHP Jake Arrieta (4-2, 3.46) vs. LHP Patrick Corbin (2-1, 3.58)

Sunday afternoon – RHP Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.34) vs. RHP Anibal Sanchez (0-4, 5.94)

The Phillies will honor Jimmy Rollins with a retirement ceremony before Saturday night’s game.

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Slumping Bryce Harper hears boos as Phillies end April with 4 hits and a loss

Slumping Bryce Harper hears boos as Phillies end April with 4 hits and a loss

Bryce Harper almost made it through the month of April without getting booed.

Almost.

Harper heard the salty sounds of disappointment as he walked back to the dugout after striking out in the bottom of the eighth inning in the Phillies' 3-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.

The strikeout, Harper's second of the night, capped a tough inning for the Phillies' $330-million man. He dropped a ball in right field in the top half of the frame.

Harper did not blame the customers for exercising their lungs and the right to show their disappointment.

"I'd do the same thing," he said. "It's not fun to lose, not fun to watch when you're playing that way. (I was) 0 for 4 with two punchies. I'm probably thinking the same thing walking back to the dugout."

Harper has started every one of the Phillies' games this season. He ended April hitting .240 with six homers, 20 RBIs and a .878 OPS.

But over the last two weeks, Harper has struggled. Remove his five-hit game in Denver on April 19 and he's 4 for his last 39 with 16 strikeouts since April 17. Even with that five-hit game, he's batting just .196 during that span.

"I feel fine," Harper said. "Just keep missing pitches. That's about it. Swing feels good, hands feel good. Just swinging at pitches out of the zone. Pretty much the same thing. Just trying to swing at a pitch over the plate and not miss it. If I can cut down on swinging on pitches out of the zone, get on base for the guys behind me, then I'll be successful.

Could he be trying too hard?

"Nah, I mean, my work's the same every day," he said. "I feel good in the cage, feel good going about it each day. But like I said, can't miss pitches over the plate. I'm getting some pitches to hit over the plate. Got to be better."

It's worth wondering if manager Gabe Kapler would give Harper his first rest of the season Wednesday night. That could conceivably give him a two-day reset because Thursday is an off day. However, the Phillies already have two outfielders on the injured list so it might be best to just let Harper hit his way out of this.

"This wasn't Bryce's best game, but I believe in Bryce with every ounce of my being," Kapler said. "This is a guy that's going to win a lot of baseball games for us, already has won baseball games for us."

What is Kapler seeing from Harper that past couple of weeks?

"I don't think that baseball is meant to be evaluated in that short a period of time," he said. "There's going to be ups, there's going to be downs for even the best hitters in baseball. This is just a stretch that Bryce is struggling through."

More Phillies than just Harper are struggling at the plate. The Phils had just four hits Tuesday night — and just one after the second inning (see observations). They have been held to five or fewer hits in seven of their last 13 games. They are hitting just .197 over their last nine games.

Vince Velasquez had trouble keeping his pitching count down in this one and took the loss after allowing three runs in an unusual third inning that saw the Phillies' defense fail to catch a ball in shallow right field because of a shift and a hazy twilight sky, and a play that could have been overturned if they had asked for a challenge before the allotted 30 seconds expired.

"We did everything we could possibly do to get the angle (on the replay)," Kapler said. "The moment I heard it was close, we decided to challenge. It's my understanding that the umpire would give you a clear indication when you're running out of time. We didn't get that clear indication. I turned around and I had my hand up to my ears to signal a challenge and I didn't get it off on time."

The play was not the reason the Phillies lost.

"We lost because after the first couple of innings we weren't able to score a run," Kapler said.

Despite the loss and the recent lack of offense, the Phillies head into the month of May at 16-13, first place in the NL East by a game.