April 07, 2016
CINCINNATI – The worst thing that could have happened to the Phillies this week in Cincinnati, at least from a baseball standpoint, wasn’t to lose all three games to the Reds. Losing a Aaron Nola or Maikel Franco to a serious injury would be much, much worse.
Despite a scare in the final inning of the final game of the series, the Phillies appeared to escape Great American Ball Park unharmed. With the Reds two outs away from completing the sweep, Franco was hit just below the left elbow by Ross Ohlendorf pitch.
Franco danced down the third base line and into the direction of the Phillies dugout in pain. But he recovered after a half minute and jogged down to the first base line.
Franco, who missed most of the final two months of the 2015 season after a Jeremy Hellickson pitch broke a bone in his left wrist, said he did not require an X-Ray following Thursday’s loss.
“I’ll be fine, I’ll be good,” Franco said. “We’ll see how it feels tomorrow, but I’ll be fine.”
While the Phillies left town without a win, Franco had a productive start to what will be his first full season in the big leagues. He homered on Wednesday night, hit a double and drew two walks on Thursday, and hit safely in all three games.
But when he raced down the wrong base line after his final plate appearance of the series, you couldn't help but have flashbacks of that night in Arizona last August that cost him a chance to make a run in the National League Rookie of the Year race.
“I just got a scare a little bit, but it’s a different spot,” he said. “There’s more chance of nothing happening because it’s not down at my wrist. Everything is good.”
Cedric Hunter, on a major league roster for the time since 2011, was a bit snakebitten in the first two games of the series with the Reds.
In each of the first two games, Billy Hamilton made highlight-reel worthy, diving catches to rob Hunter of hits. In the third game, Hunter hit it where even the lightning-quick legs of Billy Hamilton couldn’t track a ball down.
Hunter led off the fourth inning with a solo home run off of Reds right-hander Robert Stephenson. It was the first home run of the 28-year-old, former top prospect’s career and just hit second major league hit.
Prior to the home run, Hunter’s most recent hit came on April 5, 2011.
“We lost and we got swept, it’s not really cherishing the moment like I wish I could,” Hunter said. “But it’s great to get the first hit out of the way. And for it to be a home run, it’s just a blessing.”
Phillies first base coach Mickey Morandini was also able to retrieve the ball for Hunter, who never received his the memento from his first major league hit five years earlier.
It was nearly a perfect moment for Hunter. The catch this time? The 26 family members who had driven into Cincinnati from Atlanta earlier this week were already on the road or back home when he homered on Thursday.
“My dad was here Wednesday, too, (but) he left this morning,” Hunter said with a chuckle. “I’ll probably give him a shutout text to stay at home next time, watch it on TV. But I’m excited for my family to make it out to Cincinnati. For them to drive all the way up here, it means a lot.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hunter was the first non-pitcher to go more than five years without a major league hit since Gregorio Petit, who went five years and 51 days (June 4, 2009-July 25, 2014). Three days after Petit, Jason Lane recorded his first hit in nearly seven years (six years and 320 days), but did so the second time when he returned to the big leagues as a pitcher.
The revolving door in the back of the Phillies bullpen could have a new reliever headed to the mound the next time a save situation arises.
After beginning the season with Dalier Hinojosa penciled in as the first candidate to get a save opportunity, only to see him blow it on Wednesday, manager Pete Mackanin said he and pitching coach Bob McClure agreed it was time to give right-handed veteran Jeanmar Gomez a look in the closer’s role.
“We’re auditioning,” Mackanin said. “We’ve got to find out. It’s a daily question. Why not Gomez? Let’s see what he can do.”
Gomez, 28, isn’t the traditional closing candidate, since he lacks the traditional out-pitch (Ken Giles's fastball, Brad Lidge's slider, etc.) to combat hitters with ease. But he was a dependable pitcher for the majority of his first season with the Phillies in 2015.
And, really, who else deserves a shot at this point?
“We gave Hinojosa a shot at it,” Mackanin said. “We used (David) Hernandez in the eighth and he didn’t respond, but the next night he did. … It’s still a toss-up.”