Maikel Franco

Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera returning in next 3 days; who backs up Rhys Hoskins at 1B?

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Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera returning in next 3 days; who backs up Rhys Hoskins at 1B?

TAMPA, Fla. — The Phillies will get two of their projected starters back in the lineup this week when Cesar Hernandez returns from a strained hip flexor and Odubel Herrera (hamstring) makes his Grapefruit League debut.

Hernandez will lead off and play second base for the Phillies' split squad in Bradenton Thursday against the Pirates. 

Herrera will be the Phillies' designated hitter Saturday in Clearwater against the Astros.

Both had five plate appearances in a minor-league game Wednesday. Hernandez played second base for five innings.

Roman Quinn ran around in center field. He's progressing but isn't as close to a return. It still seems likely that Quinn will open the season on the injured list and work his way back timing-wise. 

Maikel Franco returned to the Phillies' lineup Wednesday night against the Yankees after missing a few days with a bug that made its way through the Phillies' clubhouse.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler still has not officially named Herrera his starting centerfielder or Franco his starting third baseman. 

Franco is competing with Scott Kingery and Herrera is competing with Aaron Altherr. Kapler said earlier in the week that he doesn't see Nick Williams as a centerfielder.

"We're taking a wait-and-see approach with both of those guys," Kapler said Wednesday of the third base battle. "It's a little early. Definitely taking it slowly, want to see more, want to see both of them compete and bring their highest energy levels every day.

"I still see it as a fight for reps in center field right now. Odubel needs to ensure that he's healthy and that he's physically capable of taking (a big workload) in center field. We're interested in his at-bats, his defense, his baserunning, his ability to show us that he's healthy, that he's a complete player. That will provide a lot of reassurance for us. That's what we're looking for from him."

Backup first baseman

A common question this spring has been who backs up Rhys Hoskins at first base?

"Rhys Hoskins is gonna play first base just about every day this season," Kapler said. "From there, I think we have a couple of guys who can play first base: Kingery, Sean Rodriguez, Franco can go over there and play first base if necessary. We have some options."

Rodriguez is battling to make the team.

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Maikel Franco gets a reprieve, would welcome Bryce Harper as teammate

Maikel Franco gets a reprieve, would welcome Bryce Harper as teammate

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Anyone know a good real estate agent? Maikel Franco is sticking around Philadelphia for a while.

Franco’s uncertainty over where he’d be playing this season has come to an end. The San Diego Padres reportedly agreed to a deal with free agent Manny Machado on Tuesday. A day earlier, the Milwaukee Brewers signed Mike Moustakas.

Machado had been the apple of the Phillies’ eye this winter (see story) and Moustakas was considered a potential fallback option.

Two third basemen off the market in two days.

Franco stays.

Relieved?

“Yeah,” he said. “I know now I’m here. I know that the organization is giving me an opportunity to be here and just do what I do better, and that's pretty much what I think about it right now.

“I want to be part of the organization with Philadelphia. I don't want to live anywhere else. I want to stay here, have fun and have fun with my guys. I just want to come in and do my job.”

Franco, 26, gets another chance to do what he’s been unable to do the last few seasons: Convince the front office he is their man at third base. Twice last season, the team appeared to be phasing Franco out of the picture. An injury to J.P. Crawford put Franco back in the lineup in late June and he went on a two-month tear and ended up leading the team in hitting (.270) while finishing second in OPS (.780) and third in homers (22) in 2018.

Though manager Gabe Kapler has said Scott Kingery will compete with Franco for the third base job, it’s difficult to envision Franco not being the starter at the position simply because he does not profile as a utility man. Franco has talent. He just needs to show consistency.

“I think what’s happened has been interesting with Maikel Franco,” Kapler said. “We saw the kind of work he put in during the offseason. He came in to camp in much better condition. We told him that he’s competing for the third-base job. He’s taken that challenge. We’re continuing to say that that challenge is great for him and his development. I’m not sure that this changes his approach at all.”

Machado’s signing with San Diego puts the pressure on the Phillies to sign Bryce Harper and the two sides have been in discussions.

Kapler has been part of the recruitment process of both players. He was part of the welcoming party that visited with Machado in Philadelphia in December and also a member of the group that visited with Harper in Las Vegas in January.

Kapler was asked if it was disappointing not to land Machado after being so involved in the recruiting effort. 

“I’m totally focused on our camp,” he said. “My goal is to help our players get better every single day. We’ve spent an extraordinary amount of time committing to that. If I tell our players, don’t think about getting traded, don’t think about the free agents that we might acquire, think about this group as the most important part of your focus and if you take your eyes off that, you’re not going to be as good. What if I don’t practice that same mentality? My job is to show our players that my focus is on this camp.”

The Phillies can still land Harper. In fact, they are now under pressure to do so.

“I've said this from Day 1, any team that acquires Manny Machado or Bryce Harper gets immediately better,” Kapler said. “I wouldn't come off that for a moment. Any team that acquires Bryce Harper will get immediately better.”

Now that he knows he’s staying, Franco wouldn’t mind seeing Harper become a Phillie.

“Why not?” he said. “He's a good player. He hits over the years, 30 or more home runs and 100 or more RBIs. If he's coming, it's good to have him. Let's see what happens."

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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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