ST PETERSBURG, Fla. — Everyday, Gabe Kapler said, a Phillies player will come to the ballpark and be left out of the lineup. That is the nature of Kapler's Phillies as the manager shuffles his starters instead of rolling out a set cast of regulars.
On Friday, it was Maikel Franco who saw his name left out for the second time in three games when he looked at the lineup posted in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field. Franco, who had 11 RBIs in a four-game span before sitting on Tuesday, said he "really understands" why he was sitting. But it was easy to tell he was a bit dismayed.
And it sent Kapler to first base during Monday's batting practice for a meeting that lasted nearly 15 minutes. Franco was expressive with his body language and the two were joined by Carlos Santana and the team's interpreter. The meeting was not confrontational, but it was emotional. It was a positive conversation, Kapler later said. He told Franco he will have plenty of chances to play in the coming days and that the line of communication between the manager and player is always open. The manager may have put out a fire before it even started.
"I wanted Franky to know that he can share anything that's on his mind," Kapler said after the Phillies' 2-1 win over the Rays. "He's a very competitive guy. I appreciate that about him. He wants to be in the lineup everyday. I appreciate that about him. Told him that we're going to look for ways to get him in the lineup as much as possible and he's going to be in there Saturday. Franky's a guy that's going to play regularly for us and we're going to pick our spots to give him a day off."
Franco started the season with just one hit in his first 11 at-bats before homering on consecutive days. He has seven hits in his last 20 at-bats as he appears to be finding comfort with the new batting stance he adapted during spring training under the guide of hitting coach John Mallee. Franco is confident that some time on the bench won't cause him to lose his rhythm.
"I just try to not think about anything," Franco said. "Keep doing everything that I've been doing consistently every single day. I'll do my routine today and do the same thing. Don't think about anything. Don't try to fight the situation. Don't say anything. When I have a chance to be in the lineup, I'll have a clear mind and go out there and do my best."
Tommy Hunter will pitch Saturday in Clearwater in an extended spring training game, signaling that the reliever is close to joining the Phillies for the first time this season. Hunter completed a fielding drill Friday at Tropicana Field and may need just two outings before being activated from the disabled list. The righthander injured his hamstring near the end of spring training.