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Scoreless minutes for Trail Blazers at start of Wednesday’s loss to Sixers

Phillies Notebook: Franco’s future uncertain

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 16

Questions have been surfacing about Maikel Franco. That’s what happens when you’re batting .209 with a .278 on-base percentage.

These questions are similar to the ones I raised in my Phillies preseason preview. Franco put up good numbers (25 home runs, 88 RBI) last season, but he is terribly inconsistent. He will be red-hot for a week, slamming homers and driving in runs, and then will turn ice-cold. I questioned whether Franco is worthy of a lucrative long-term contract.

There were rumors that the Phillies offered Franco a contract extension, reportedly a six-year deal, last season. Perhaps the thought process was that they could lock him in for a below-market number. But Franco’s performance this season should cause the Phillies to pause on offering any long-term deal.

Franco isn’t a young kid. He’s 24 years old. He played 80 games with the Phillies in 2015, accumulating 304 at-bats, before playing a full season last year. His batting average has declined from .280 his first season to .255 last year to, so far, .209 this season. His on-base percentage has dropped from .343 to .306 to .278.

There is still a long way to go this season, but there are some disturbing patterns. Franco has had two long hitless streaks, with the longer one reaching 23 at-bats. This is consistent with his inconsistency last season.

Franco has hits in his last two games, even scoring the tying run during the Phillies’ ninth-inning rally in Sunday’s 4-3 victory over the Nationals. But he hasn’t hit a home run or driven in a run since May 4. That’s 25 at-bats without a home run.

Franco would have had more at-bats except that manager Pete Mackanin removed him from the starting lineup Wednesday against the Mariners after a series of terrible at-bats the previous day. Mackanin also had a meeting with Franco and dropped him out of the cleanup spot.

Mackanin also didn’t include Franco in the lineup for Sunday night’s 6-5 loss to the Nationals. Whether that was by design because the Phillies played a day-night doubleheader with the Nationals or whether it was because Franco didn’t run hard on a hard-hit ball in the ninth inning of the first game is open to speculation.

When the ball hit near the top of the wall in center field, Franco had to break out of his lackadaisical trot and hustle to reach second base. An accurate throw would have nailed Franco at second base and short-circuited the Phillies’ game-winning rally.

Think about the situation described in the previous two paragraphs. Franco, who had been benched several days earlier and hadn’t had a home run or RBI for 10 days, and who has the worst batting average and on-base percentage of all non-pitchers on the roster, didn’t run out a hard-hit ball … in a 3-3 game … in the ninth inning. That attitude is disturbing.

Franco’s fielding hasn’t been up to par this season, either. He has five errors and could have been charged with two or three more, most recently on May 6, when a hard-hit ball went under his glove for a double. It was a ball that Franco certainly would tell you he should have fielded cleanly, but it was ruled a hit.

Franco is a talented player. At times, he looks like the type of player who can carry a team. But his inconsistency and question about his attitude should raise questions within the Phillies organization about whether Franco should be part of their foundation for the future.

The positive side of Franco’s struggles is the Phillies is they may be able to save money on his contract extension – his initial contract makes him a bargain at a little more than $500,000 this season and $560,000 next year – but perhaps that money would be better invested in a more reliable third baseman.

There is still time for Franco to prove himself. For now, as I wrote in my preseason preview, the jury is still out.

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EXTENDING MACKANIN: Although Franco needs to do more to earn his contract extension, manager Pete Mackanin received his extension. In the final year of his contract, Mackanin received a new deal that runs through 2018, with a club option for 2019.

It probably wasn’t coincidental that Mackanin’s extension was announced one day after reliever Joaquin Benoit, after getting torched for five runs in one-third of an inning, complained about the handling of the bullpen, saying the relievers don’t have defined rules.

A manager in the final year of his contract doesn’t have the leverage – or the hammer – to discipline players for complaining or for not hustling. Players sense the organization isn’t behind the manager, and they take advantage of the situation. With a contract extension, it’s clear to the players that Mackanin isn’t a lame duck whom they can ignore.

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BORN (NOT) TO RUN: Pete Mackanin’s contract extension came just in time for him to deal with Odubel Herrera’s failure to hustle while grounding into a double play during Saturday’s loss to the Nationals. Herrera also struck out three times and didn’t seem to be concentrating at the plate. Mackanin met with Herrera the next morning.

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NO RELIEF: It was a week full of meetings for Pete Mackanin, who also met with veteran reliever Joaquin Benoit after Benoit complained about the relievers not having defined roles. Benoit lamented the handling of the bullpen after allowing five runs in one-third of an inning against the Mariners.

My answer to Benoit would have been that perhaps there would be defined roles in the bullpen if anyone, including him, had demonstrated that they can handle being the closer. When relievers fail as the closer, or in any other role, it requires the manager to change the roles. It would be foolish to continue to send the pitcher out in the same situation if the failures continue.

Futhermore, when the bullpen blows three four-run leads in the span of a few games, as happened last week with the Phillies, there are more significant problems than whether relievers are comfortable in their roles.

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McCLURE RIPS RUPP: Pete Mackanin wasn’t the only one holding meetings this past week. Pitching coach Bob McClure met with catcher Cameron Rupp on Sunday morning after Bryce Harper slammed a two-run walkoff home run Saturday night during the Nationals’ 6-4 victory.

McClure provided some insight about the content of that meeting Sunday during an interview on WIP with broadcaster Larry Andersen during the pregame show prior to the first game of the day/night doubleheader with the Nationals. McClure clearly was not pleased with the decision to have reliever Edubray Ramos throw fastballs to Harper.

“I couldn’t believe it,” McClure told Andersen. “My mouth dropped. I just couldn’t believe he throw a fastball. I might have to start calling pitches. I don’t know.”

Harper, whose lucrative one-year contract extension was announced earlier in the day,  fouled off Ramos’ first fastball with a hard swing. McClure, who later insisted he didn’t intend to publicly rip Rupp, thought Rupp should have recognized that Harper was swinging hard and called for an off-speed pitch.

I turned on the car radio just before McClure uttered the quote in this item. He sounded so excitable that my initial thought is that Andersen was taking calls from fans.

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ALTHERR ON FIRE: Let’s take this Phillies Notebook in a more positive direction. Aaron Altherr hit 3-run home runs in three consecutive games. He hit five home runs in a five-game span. Clearly, Altherr will remain in the starting lineup when Howie Kendrick returns from an oblique injury. The only question is whether he will primarily start in left, center or right field.

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RUIZ’S MOMENT: It was wonderful to see Phillies fans give catcher Carlos Ruiz a well-deserved fantastic reception this past week when the Mariners came to Citizens Bank Park for a two-game series. The fans gave Ruiz standing ovations and even did a “Chooooch!” tribute after he cleared the bases with a double during the crucial inning of the Mariners’ 11-6 victory. An emotional Ruiz clearly appreciated the outpouring of love and support.

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COMEBACK KIDS: The Phillies’ 4-3 victory over the Nationals on Sunday, which was achieved with a three-run ninth inning, was the first time this season they won a game in which they trailed entering the ninth inning.

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NOLA CLOSE TO RETURNING: Aaron Nola’s second rehab assignment with Class AAA Lehigh Valley went extremely well. He limited Rochester to two hits in 6 1/3 shutout innings. Nola could return for the Phillies this weekend.

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PERFECT 10: Lehigh Valley won the game Aaron Nola started, 1-0, to stretch its winning streak to 10 games.

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COZENS CRUSHES HOMER: Continuing the Lehigh Valley section of this edition of Phillies Notebook, Dylan Cozens and Rhys Hopkins each hit their ninth home runs this season Sunday during Game 1 of a Mother’s Day doubleheader against Buffalo. Cozens’ three-run homer in the fifth inning traveled 469 feet, the longest homer in the nine-year history of Coca-Cola Park.

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EICKHOFF WINLESS: It’s difficult to believe that Jerad Eickhoff (0-3), considered to be an important part of the Phillies’ future, enters Tuesday’s start against the Rangers without a victory this season.

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LOOKAHEAD: The Phillies finish up their nine-game road trip with games against the Rangers on Tuesday through Thursday, and then head to Pittsburgh for a weekend series. The Phillies return home next week for series against the Rockies (four games) and Reds.

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