NEW YORK — Phillies manager Gabe Kapler filled out another lineup card on Tuesday afternoon with Maikel Franco batting eighth. It was Franco's eighth straight start in the No. 8 spot, which he had not occupied since 2014 when he was a September call-up.
The new spot has brought some early positives. Franco had nine hits in his first 21 at-bats from the eighth spot, and added a three-run homer and RBI single Tuesday against the Mets. Yes, it is a small sample size. But after a difficult start to the season, the Phillies will value any sign of positivity for the player who arrived with such hype the last time he was batting eighth. And for Kapler, mum's the word.
"I haven't explained it to him and I'm not sure I want to right now because things are kind of working," Kapler said before Tuesday's game. "At least on the surface. A very surface look, it looks like he's seeing a few more pitches. A very surface look, it looks like he's a little more disciplined. A very surface look, it looks like he's getting the ball in the air a little bit more. Maybe nothing needs to be said at this point."
Franco was batting just .240 on June 20 with a .693 OPS through his first 225 plate appearances when Kapler left him out of the lineup for a series opener in Washington. Franco responded the following day with his first four-hit game since last July. In his next 53 plate appearances, Franco raised his season average by 31 points and his OPS bumped up 82 points. Franco, with a new batting spot and some motivation from being left out of the lineup in Washington, has finally showed something.
"I always get motivation," Franco said. "I know my talent and I know what I'm capable of doing. I just want to play. If I know I'm playing every single game, I'm just going to do my thing and help my team win. It's a little bit frustrating but I understand the situation as well."
In this stretch, Franco has increased his fly-ball rate and cut back on the ground balls he pounded so often to the left side. Batting eighth, Franco said, has forced him to be more selective as he knows he might not get too many good pitches with the pitcher waiting on deck. Franco said he had to make an adjustment, stay calm, and wait for his pitch. Kapler said it has not just been Franco's at-bats that improved, but he pointed to an improvement in his defense, baserunning, and his overall game.
"I think he had a little fire," Kapler said. "I think there was a little push there that had him say 'Hey, I'm going to lock down and be a good baseball player and show everyone in Philadelphia that I have that in me." I think we have to respect that. It's been tremendous and he's been a good teammate and a professional and a good baseball player for the last couple weeks."