February 25, 2017
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Maikel Franco hit two home runs in the first home Grapefruit League game of the 2017 spring season on Saturday at Spectrum Field.
He preferred the first one, a solo shot in the fourth inning that flirted with the Tiki Bar over the left field fence.
“Slider over the middle, I put good contact on it,” Franco said. “On the second one, I had to run too much.”
Although the bulky, 6-1, 215-pound third baseman dropped about a half dozen pounds this winter, he’s hardly known for his speed. So when he circled the bases in the sixth inning for a Little League home run, and was actually credited with an inside-the-park home run, pretty much everyone in Clearwater was somewhat stunned.
How the heck did that just happen?
“Hey!” Franco first yelled toward reporters when he saw them approach his locker stall. “You see my speed?”
Later, he called it “Cesar-speed,” a nod to fellow infielder Cesar Hernandez, one of the faster base runners in the National League.
“I don’t even know,” Franco said of the play. “I was running to second base and (third base coach Juan Samuel) said to keep going, so I kept going. I don’t know what happened there. Beautiful.”
What happened: two innings after launching a ball to left, Franco found the gap in left-center on a 2-2 pitch. Yankees center fielder Tyler Wade, who hadn’t played any outfield in four seasons in the Yankees minor league system before a handful of games in the Arizona Fall League a few months ago, muffed the ball and it rolled under the padding of the fence.
Wade raised his arms. The umpires ignored him. Franco kept running.
“No one thought he’d ever do it,” Mackanin said of Franco. “We just went over that rule the other day in my office about making sure that, with your outfielders, to make sure the ball is actually lodged. And if it isn’t lodged, they better make sure.”
Franco finished his first game of the spring 2-for-3 with a pair of solo home runs.
But it was how the usually free-swinging Franco hit those home runs that Mackanin was most encouraged with on Saturday. Both came on 2-2 pitches.
“He had two long, deep count at-bats,” Mackanin said. “That stood out for me. He worked the count. That was good to see.”
With a whole month of spring games remaining in the Phillies exhibition season schedule, Franco is off to a good start in matching his production from last Spring Training. A year ago Franco hit .294 with nine home runs and a 1.054 OPS in 22 games.
Franco had an up-and-down regular season in 2016, however, hitting .255 with 25 home runs and a .733 OPS in 152 games. In 2015, he hit .280 with 14 home runs and a.840 OPS in 80 games.
“I think I can do better,” Franco said. “This year I put a lot of work, a lot of focus, working on what I have to work on. This year should be very good, much better than last year.”
Franco has worked diligently with first-year hitting coach Matt Stairs this spring and should also benefit this summer from the presence of veterans Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders in the lineup. Saunders hit fifth, behind Franco on Saturday, while Kendrick was slotted in the second spot of Mackanin’s batting order.