July 06, 2016
Even with his bat piping hot – his previous at-bat ended with him circling the bases following an opposite-field home run, his fourth in as many games – Maikel Franco has not forgotten the advice of his hitting coach.
Last month, when Franco was still mired in a three-month-long slump to begin the 2016 season, his first full year in the major leagues, hitting coach Steve Henderson told the slugging third baseman to calm down. If the pitcher didn’t want to give you anything to hit, don’t give in; take your walk.
In the eighth inning of Thursday afternoon’s game at Citizens Bank Park, Franco led off with his ninth walk in his last 14 games. Franco has more walks than strikeouts during that period; those nine walks are more than he had in a month of games (27) that preceded it.
"I think if you were a betting man," said manager Pete Mackanin, knowing Franco's swing-happy ways, "you wouldn’t have bet that he’d take way because he’s trying to tie the game up."
Instead, Franco's leadoff walk set the stage for a game-winning home run from the guy he shares the left side of the infield with on a nightly basis.
With the tying run (Franco) on third base with two outs in the eighth, Freddy Galvis drilled a go-ahead, two-run home run deep into the seats beyond the right field fence to deliver the Phillies a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
Two weeks and two days after leaving Citizens Bank Park following an 0-6 homestand that saw them score a grand total of nine runs, the suddenly hot-hitting Phillies finished off a sweep of the Braves The win was the fourth straight for the Phillies (40-46) and their eighth in their last nine games.
After failing to four runs or more in 46 of their first 76 games, the Phillies have scored four or more in nine of their last 10 games. They've won eight straight when scoring four or more runs.
Not surprisingly, the offense's hot streak has coincided with Franco looking like a middle-of-the-lineup building block again.
“I think when we were losing a lot of games, I think everybody was trying to do too much," Galvis said. "I think sometimes Maik tries to put the pressure on himself, trying to do everything to win the game. And he was hitting third and fourth and so everybody's eyes were on him.
"It's good for him to get some hits and after he gets some hits, his confidence just goes up and when his confidence goes up, everybody wants to be like Maik. When his confidence goes up, he's a pretty good hitter and I think he's going to get better.”
Franco became the first Phillies player to homer in four consecutive games since Ryan Howard in September of 2012, and the first Phillies third baseman to do so since Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt in May of 1984. Franco's power surge gives him 17 home runs with four games left before the All-Star break; he has the same amount of home runs as All-Stars Bryce Harper, Corey Seager, and Marcell Ozuna, among others.
"I'm just really comfortable at home plate, I'm seeing the pitches much better," said Franco, who is hitting .404 with five home runs, three doubles, a triple and 12 RBI in his last 12 games. "That's what I'm doing right now, trying to see the ball and trying to put good contact on it."
A year after it took until the night of the trade deadline (July 31) to collect their 40th win of the season, the Phillies collected victory No. 40 in 2016 in the penultimate series of the first half of the season. They headed to Denver on Thursday night all wearing Cowboy hats – courtesy of Carlos Ruiz, who also had a hit in the eighth inning – and packing bats that are more than ready for the offensive-friendly environs of Coors Field.
The Phillies, who rank 25th in baseball in home runs, have hit 11 of them in their last four games.
"Well if that’s what we are, then I’ll take it," Mackanin said when jokingly asked if his team had become too reliant on the home run ball. "It’s a lot easier to manage when you can sit back and wait for two (or) three-run home runs. I think it’s just because the guys are swinging the bats better. They’re taking better approaches. We started doing that in Minnesota (two weeks ago), (then) throughout the road trip, and carried it into the homestand. It’s nice to see these guys have good at-bats."
• Jeremy Hellickson did not earn the win on Wednesday (that went to Hector Neris) but did deliver his fourth straight quality start in limiting Atlanta to one earned run in six innings. Hellickson has a 2.70 ERA in his last eight starts at Citizens Bank Park and, with the trade deadline quickly approaching, a 2.71 ERA in 10 of his last 11 starts overall.
"I would hate to lose him – I don’t know what’s going on, that’s not my area – but if they (trade him) did I’m sure we’d get something we really like in return," Mackanin said. "But you’d hate to lose a guy like that who sets the tone for the rest of the staff."
General manager Matt Klentak talked a bit about the deadline and Hellickson on Tuesday.
Phillies just announced they will have a second representative at next week's All-Star Game in San Diego. This guy: pic.twitter.com/wwUJRKkI1g— Ryan Lawrence (@ryanlawrence21) July 6, 2016
First baseman Rhys Hoskins (Double-A Reading), right-hander Jake Thompson (Triple-A Lehigh Valley), and shortstop J.P. Crawford (Triple-A) were announced as the Phillies minor league hitter, pitcher, and defender of the month of June, respectively.
The 23-year-old Hoskins was also named the Eastern League’s Player of the Month on Wednesday. Hoskins hit .351 with a 1.198 OPS, 13 home runs, nine doubles, and 33 RBI in 27 games in June.
Hoskins was the second straight Reading recipient of the Eastern League Player of the Month award, following Dylan Cozens in May. Hoskins and Cozens have hit a combined 47 home runs for Reading, which has the best record in all of baseball (61-24).
The 22-year-old Thompson is 6-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 16 starts with the IronPigs. He had a 0.76 ERA in five starts in June.
Crawford, 21, hit .311 in his last 15 games in June with the ‘Pigs, but was recognized for his glove.