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Maikel Franco is a human rollercoaster, and he’s headed back up.
Franco saved the Phillies from what would have been a brutal three-game sweep by the Washington Nationals when he stepped to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and delivered this shot:
Maikel Franco. Boom.
This NL postseason chase is going to be nuts.
— MLB (@MLB) July 14, 2019
The blast was an exclamation point on a series in which Franco finished 6 for 10 with two homers.
Despite a scorching start to the season, Franco bottomed out with a .204 batting average back on June 23. He has since used a red-hot stretch in which he entered today hitting .393 with a 1.164 OPS over his last 15 games to revive his season. Franco’s walk-off homer came the day after he committed a critical late-inning error that cost the Phillies an important run in an eventual 4-3 loss on Saturday night.
After the game, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler credited Franco’s resiliency, while also channeling his inner Rocky Balboa.
“Oftentimes, I think it’s not whether you’re going to get punched, you’re going to fall down, you’re going to hit the mat, but it’s how quickly you can get back up and how hard you hit back,” he said. “And, you know, Maikey had an error that hurt us yesterday, but he bounced back today and had a walk-off homer, really showed the resiliency that we talk about, the toughness we talk about, that makes up our club and the character.”
Is that Maikey, Maiky, Mikey? I’ll go with Maikey.
Anyway, it appeared he was on the verge of permanently losing his everyday role about a month ago, but plans have since changed.
“When he’s swinging the bat well, when he’s the best version of Maikey, he can’t come out of the lineup, and you never take him out of the lineup because he’s just that good,” Kapler said. “He makes us that much better and deeper, and, obviously, a guy who’s a big threat to hit a walk-off home run like he did at the very bottom of the lineup. And that makes our lineup deep and dangerous, so when he’s the best version of himself, we legitimately cannot take him out of the lineup—he’s that important to us.”
Arrieta Impressive Despite Injury
I wasn’t very impressed with Jake Arrieta’s tough guy act after his poor outing against the Mets last weekend, but I was impressed with his tough guy act today. Arrieta, who is pitching with bone spurs in his right elbow, held the Nationals to only one run over five innings, setting the tone in a game that his team absolutely had to have. After the game, Kapler credited Arrieta’s ability to fight – not fistfight – through the pain.
“I think there was a lot that was said leading up to today about Jake and his ability to take down this start, and what did 85 percent of Jake look like for us,” Kapler said. “That’s it, right? It’s a guy who can fight through some discomfort, a guy who can fight through not being at his best but can still give us a chance to win. Really impressive, gutsy, also resilient effort by Jake.”
It wasn’t a dominant performance, but it was pretty damn good.
Despite generating only three swings and misses on his 88 pitches, Arrieta relied on a light mix of curveballs, changeups and an effective sinker – which he threw 55 times – to generate nine groundball outs. His velocity stayed fairly consistent until the fifth inning as he averaged 92.4 mph on his sinker. Here’s the breakdown by inning:
1st inning: 93.2 mph
2nd inning: 93.3 mph
3rd inning: 91.3 mph
4th inning : 92.9 mph
5th inning: 91.0 mph
Noticeably absent again from Arrieta’s arsenal was his cutter. He told reporters after the game that he’s gotten away from throwing the pitch because it causes discomfort, and he’s unable to consistently get the movement he wants.
It’s fair to debate the merit of removing an effective starter after only 88 pitches, particularly with a bullpen that entered the day with a 6.07 ERA since June 1. After the game, I asked Kapler if he would’ve stuck with Arrieta had the Phillies not threatened offensively in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“No, that was enough for him. He was reaching that 90-pitch mark through five innings,” he said. “That’s a lot of work for anybody, particularly for a guy who’s not fully healthy.”
In addition to limiting his banged up starter’s workload, the splits also suggest it was the right move. Arrieta came into today with a 6.82 ERA this season when going through an opponent’s batting order for the third time. Opponents were hitting .311 with a .948 OPS. Pair that with his fifth inning drop in velo, and I’ve got no gripe with Kapler’s decision to remove Arrieta at that point.
Pinch-Hitting Woes Continue
With the game tied, 1-1, and runners at first and second with nobody out in the bottom of the fifth, Kapler elected to pinch-hit for Arrieta with Brad Miller. Given the Phillies’ limited bench options, I was a bit surprised that Kapler didn’t have Arrieta just bunt the runners over that early in the game to save himself a bench bat. Actually, I’m not surprised – but I would have done it. Miller instead struck out, continuing the Phillies’ pronounced pinch-hitting woes this season. Phils pinch-hitters are now 24 for 145 (.166), which represents the National League’s lowest pinch-hitting batting average.
The Phillies signed Logan Morrison on Saturday to a minor league contract. It’s hard to imagine that Morrison, who had 15 homers and a .999 OPS in 152 ABs at Triple-A with the Yankees organization, won’t soon join the big club. I mean, why not? The bench production can’t get much worse.
Harper’s Power Outage
It might be hittin’ season, but the month of July hasn’t brought a surge in Bryce Harper’s power numbers. In 35 at-bats this month, Harper has only one homer and two total extra-base hits. The Phillies desperately could use an uptick in Harper’s .371 July slugging-percentage over the second half of this month.