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September 08, 2016

Franco, out for second straight game, has struggled to find consistency this year

WASHINGTON – Maikel Franco will be out of the lineup for the second straight night when the Phillies open a four-game series in Washington tonight.

Franco is nursing a bruised right hand, the result of getting jammed on an inside pitch on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. The second-year third baseman tried to play through it in the first two games the Phillies played in Miami (two wins), but informed the team that it was bothering him and both parties are moving on with precaution.

The injury is not severe enough to warrant an X-ray, Franco said.

“It’s better today,” he said. “We’ll see what happens (later) today and tomorrow.”

Franco planned on hitting off a tee in the cage and testing the hand with throws in infield practice, too. He could pinch hit and is listed as day-to-day.

Andres Blanco started in Franco’s place on Friday – playing third base and hitting third in the lineup – as the Phillies attempt to find some semblance of offensive consistency in the season’s final three weeks. The Phils entered Washington having been shut out in four of their last 15 games and with a major league-low 510 runs this season overall (30 fewer than the next closest team).

The Phils also rank last in OBP (.295), OPS (.678), total bases (1,775), extra-base hits (369). Only the Kansas City Royals have fewer walks.

“That’s an issue,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “You can talk to hitters about being more selective, but it’s easier said than done. There are certain guys who can do it and certain guys who can’t. I think guys can better at it.”

Although the Phillies will certainly trade some selectivity for premium power numbers if Franco develops into a 30-40 home run player, he hasn’t been that player this season. Franco has 44 extra-base hits in 131 game this season, which pales in comparison to the elite players at his position (Nolan Arenado 73, Manny Machado 73, Kris Bryant 69, Josh Donaldson 66).

Granted it’s only Franco’s first full season in the major leagues, but he did rack up 37 extra-base hits in 212 fewer plate appearances last season.

Overall, Franco .721 OPS this season ranks 25th among the 25 qualifying third basemen in baseball this year. He’s hit .207/.255/.309 in 200 plate appearances (47 games) since the All-Star break.

“I mean it’s tough, it’s tough,” Franco said Thursday. “For me, it’s been tough. In spring training I felt good, everything was good. But when the season started so many things happened with me.”

But then [Franco] got, as I call it, homer happy I think. Once you get into a rut like that, it’s hard to get out of it.

Franco went on to talk about a few nagging injuries, but then basically said everyone in baseball has to endure such issues.

“It’s part of the game and I have to understand that,” he said. “The only thing I have to do is get relaxed, get fresh, and get my mind ready.”

When asked what one thing he would look to improve upon this winter, Franco surprisingly said his conditioning. Perhaps shedding “eight to 10 pounds” and come in stronger and ready for the grind of a six-month season.

“I have to work on a lot of stuff, but the first thing I want to work on is my body,” Franco said. “I just want to get in shape. Because that’s the first point for me, that’s what I have to do. And everything I can do from there – I just have to go out and find out what it takes to get ready for next year.”

Perhaps with better conditioning will come a better, more relaxed approach, too.

Franco has seen 3.54 pitches per plate appearance this season. Among the 150 qualifying big league hitters, only 10 have seen fewer pitches this season.

Franco’s ultra aggressiveness was on display a week ago Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park against the Nationals when he made four outs on a total four pitches in a 3-2 loss.

“I thought he was on his way and he had a good start to the season,” Mackanin said of Franco, who had five home runs and a .847 OPS in his first 21 games of the season. “But then he got, as I call it, homer happy I think. Once you get into a rut like that, it’s hard to get out of it.

“You have to make an obvious change to your approach, which is difficult to do. You just don’t say hit the ball up the middle and to right field when you’ve been doing something a certain way, it’s not that easy to do it in the game. Because there’s a survival mode in the game, (you do) that’s comfortable for you and you just try to stay with it.

“By the same token when you’re doing the same thing over and over and over again and you’re not getting results you have to make a change, you have to do it differently, you have to make an adjustment. He’s still trying to make an adjustment.”

Before breaking a bone in his hand last August, Franco was a National League Rookie of the Year Candidate in 2015. He hit .280 with 14 home runs, a .343 OBP, and a .497 slugging percentage in 80 games. This year, he's hit .246/.298/.423 with 22 home runs in 131 games.

Although Franco only turned 24 two weeks ago, the 2017 season will be an important one for his continued development as a major league hitter. 

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