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July 18, 2015

Phillies notes: After more trade requests, Papelbon hears loud boos from home crowd

Other topics include Jeff Francoeur’s pinch-hitting, Adam Morgan delivering at the plate, and the return of Turkey Bacon

For the rest of the season, it’s probably safe to say the only player whose sheer presence will elicit a strongly negative reaction at Citizens Bank Park is a Phillie. Until the front office you-know-what or gets off the pot, Jonathan Papelbon is going to hear it pretty good. 

The announced attendance at The Bank last night for Phillies-Marlins was a sleepy 23,074, but the crowd actually became pretty animated in the ninth inning when their own closer came out. Believe it or not, interim manager Pete Mackanin at least partially understands where they’re coming from.

“He says a few things he shouldn’t say and he comes across poorly sometimes, but like I said, this guy is a true competitor,” Mackanin said. “He goes out there and gives you 100 percent. He knows what he’s doing out there.”

Papelbon has been a hot topic of discussion recently. I guess where you ultimately fall on him is a bit subjective. The fans tonight obviously didn’t appreciate his comments earlier in the week at the All-Star Game, a continuation of a longer campaign to get shipped out of town to a contender. On the other hand, all Papelbon has really done is criticize the front office, something most fans do routinely. 

The 34-year-old isn’t popular despite pitching very well during his time in Philly. An expensive closer is generally thought of as a luxury, which makes his presence of the lowly Phillies an awkward fit to put it lightly. Papelbon’s strong performance doesn’t matter much in terms of wins as the rest of the team is crumbling around him.

When Papelbon gave up a homer to J.T. Realmuto in the ninth inning, the fans booed again. Problem is, he had a pretty legitimate excuse: The Phillies are so bad that he was pitching on nine days rest, which has to completely mess with a reliever’s rhythm.

“I talk about commanding your stuff,” Mackanin said. “When you’re not in there on a regular basis, it’s hard to be effective just like a hitter.”

Eventually, Papelbon was able to shut the door and the Phillies won, 6-3. Even if you don’t think Papelbon has done much wrong, it’s time to move on, if only for the sake of everyone’s sanity. This isn’t someone with the trade value of Cole Hamels we’re talking about. Until then, a more immediate change might be pumping up the volume on Papelbon’s warm-up music. The booing might be here to stay.

Frenchy comes up big off the bench

Papelbon was giving Jeff Francoeur some good-natured grief in the locker room, as Frenchy’s pinch-hit three-run bomb in the eighth inning took the game out of a save situation. On an awkward swing, he golfed a decent slider down in the zone from Mike Dunn into the left field bleachers.

Francoeur isn’t having a good season at the plate overall (.245/.277/.408), but he has been a great clubhouse guy on a team that desperately needs to keep morale from plummeting. And unlike Papelbon, Francoeur is actually happy to be here. Like, he went out of his way to make it perfectly clear multiple times.

“He’s got great energy in the clubhouse and on the bench,” Mackanin said. “He loves playing baseball, and I think it rubs off on the rest of the guys. And I’m happy to see him have success because I like him a lot.”

Also, the 31-year-old has showed an aptitude for pinch-hitting (albeit in a small sample). His preparation involves heading back into the cages a few times per game and taking swings thirty feet away from the pitcher. The purpose is to get his hands moving quicker and loosen up his body. It has worked:

“I talked to Stairsy about it a little bit,” he said, referencing the man who owns maybe the most important pinch-hit in franchise history. “He gave me some good [advice]. Sometimes it’s almost like a free at-bat, not that you’re expecting to get out. But you got to go up there and if you get a hit, it’s a bonus really.”

Reeling in the big fish

I’m sure there are bigger starting pitching mismatches than Jose Fernandez against Adam Morgan on paper, but they’re not exactly coming to mind right now. From a pure stuff standpoint, the contrast was stark: Fernandez’ average four-seam fastball on Friday was thrown at 97.5 mph per Brooks Baseball. For Morgan, 88.9.

If the two pitchers were movies, Fernandez is working with something like Avatar’s budget while Morgan is closer to an indie film after undergoing surgery in January 2014 to repair a torn rotator cuff. 

Baseball can be funny sometimes, though, and Friday night proved that point again. Although Fernandez pitched well and looked electric in doing so, Morgan battled him to a draw and the Phillies ended up winning the game. After a rough outing in Los Angeles before the All-Star break, the 25-year-old lefty pitched 6.1 innings of four-hit, two-run ball.

“It was kind of a plan to just get ahead and not be too fine,” Morgan said. ”I remember telling guys after the L.A. game that I was falling behind, trying to pick, and trying to be too fine with pitches.”

In four starts with the Phillies, Morgan’s ERA is now down to 3.91, which has provided a major lift for a rotation that is pretty much in survival mode from now until the end of the season. Morgan was not having a good season in Triple-A (4.74 ERA, .298 AVG for opposing hitters), but he was called up out of necessity. So far, so good.

“He looks like a pitcher,” interim manager Pete Mackanin said, which sounds totally obvious but is exactly the point: Thus far, Morgan has looked like a major league pitcher, something the Phillies desperately needed.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Mackanin added. “He knows how to mix pitches, change speeds. He’s got that excellent changeup he can fool a lot of hitters with. When he spots his fastball and keeps it down in the zone, he’s a real good pitcher. I’m happy to have him here. He’s made a very good impression.”

Perhaps it can be argued that Morgan actually got the better of the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year due to what he did at the plate in the sixth inning. The lefty lined a Fernandez fastball on the outside part of the plate over a shallow Mike Morse in left field for his first big-league hit.

In the locker room after the game when reporters huddled around Morgan, his teammates were mocking him (and us, too). They were yelling at Morgan to talk about his hit, which was predictably going to be the first “talk about.”

“I just ran into it,” he said.

Kratz your hands

Turkey bacon sales in Pennsylvania are about to skyrocket. The Phillies signed old acquaintance Erik Kratz to a minor-league contract, and the Southeastern PA native will be assigned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He’ll presumably provide depth behind the IronPigs’ starting catcher, Gabriel Lino.

After making appearances with the Phillies from 2011 to 2013, Kratz was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays before the 2014 season. He was then traded midseason to the Kansas City Royals, who went on to make the playoffs, and eventually, the World Series. After getting designated for assignment a little over a month ago and having a short minor-league stint with the Seattle Mariners, Kratz has come back home. Let’s hope the good people at Godshall’s have already placed a call into him:

Down on the Farm

LEHIGH VALLEY 1, Rochester 0: Jesse Biddle is having a rough year on the mound, but he was excellent for the IronPigs (41-52) on Friday night. His final line: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 ER. When Biddle has that type of control (which hasn’t been often this year, with 40 BB in 83 IP), he is usually going to be very tough to hit.

READING 7, New Britain 3: In a rehab start, Jerome Williams went eight innings and only surrendered one earned run. As for a couple of the intriguing prospects, J.P. Crawford went 0-4 at the dish while Kelly Dugan went 2-4. Destin Hood and Harold Martinez homered for the Fightin Phils (50-42).

Palm Beach 2, CLEARWATER 0: The Threshers (52-40) were three-hit on Friday night. Victor Arano took the loss despite pitching seven innings of one-run ball.

LAKEWOOD 5, Rome 4: 2015 draft picks Scott Kingery and Kyle Martin belted out a combined five hits and scored four of the BlueClaws’ four runs. Elniery Garcia threw six innings and gave up three runs for Lakewood (46-44).

WILLIAMSPORT 8, Batavia 0: The juggernaut that is the Crosscutters (20-7) put up a six spot in the first inning and never looked back. Mitch Gueller threw seven shutout innings and got the win.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann