NEW YORK - There were indicators that Maikel Franco, who began Thursday hitless in his previous 21 at-bats, suffered from a bout of bad luck. He has hit the ball, on average, harder than he did last season. He has struck out at a lower rate than a season ago. His batting average on balls in play was the fifth lowest among qualified hitters.
So, despite a lack of results, Franco clung to the positives.
"That's why I'm still confident," he said. "That's why I have a lot of patience. . . . If you put the ball in play and stroke the ball really good and hit it hard, you worry about stuff you can control."
Pete Mackanin can control his lineup, and Franco remained in it Thursday, as the cleanup hitter. Franco was robbed of a hit in the first inning when Michael Conforto made a diving catch. Then, in the third, he rocketed a run-scoring double to left that snapped the 0-for-22 slump. And in the eighth he homered to left.
"He just needs to be more disciplined," Mackanin said. "It's as simple as that. He hasn't struck out a lot. . . . But he's expanding the zone too much. Until he gets that together, he's going to struggle."
Franco, actually, has swung at a smaller percentage of pitches outside the strike zone this season, according to Baseball Info Solutions data. He swung at 34.5 percent of pitches out of the zone in 2016 and has swung at 27.1 percent in 2017. He is swinging at fewer pitches, period, and making more contact than he has in any previous season.
Franco entered Thursday with an average exit velocity of 91.7 mph, according to data from Major League Baseball's Statcast. That ranked 18th in baseball. His average exit velocity in 2016 was 90.3 mph.
So, how can a .148 batting average and .494 OPS in his first 60 plate appearances be explained?
"There's guys that start fast," Mackanin said. "These guys who are hitting .380 and .400, you know they aren't going to hit .400 and .380. Guys who struggle at first are not going to hit .150. So it will all even out eventually, hopefully sooner than later."
Franco said he has seen the ball well. That, for now, must replace the satisfaction typically generated by good results.
"Sometimes you get frustrated," Franco said. "Sometimes you have to not think about that. But sometimes you get frustrated, especially when you're 0 for 10, 0 for 13, and you hit the ball really well and somebody catches it. Sometimes you get frustrated, but it's part of the game. I have to forget that kind of stuff. I have to be ready 100 percent, ready to go, out there every day and do what I can do."
Michael Saunders (illness) was removed from the lineup 90 minutes before first pitch. He was replaced in right field by Aaron Altherr. . . . Pat Neshek and his wife welcomed a baby girl. The righthanded reliever could return to the Phillies Friday, but he can spend another day on paternity leave, if needed. . . . The Braves come to Citizens Bank Park on Friday for the first time this season. They'll pitch Bartolo Colon against Jeremy Hellickson in the series opener.