Bryce Harper's return from paternity leave Monday presented the Phillies with a roster decision. And for the second time in three weeks, they chose Sean Rodriguez over Maikel Franco.
Never mind that Rodriguez entered the week with one hit in 20 at-bats since July 27. The Phillies still optioned Franco -- on his 27th birthday, no less -- to triple-A Lehigh Valley, the latest in a series of moves over the last two seasons that signals the former top prospect and four-time opening-day third baseman is no longer in the team's plans beyond this season.
Franco has struggled since the season’s first month, batting .233 with 15 homers and a .706 on-base plus slugging percentage in 339 at-bats. He recently lost his starting job to Scott Kingery and was sent to triple A on Aug. 4.
Manager Gabe Kapler explained that Franco isn’t suited for a bench role because of his limited versatility (he’s strictly a third baseman). Rodriguez, meanwhile, can play every position in the infield and outfield.
Kapler also cited Franco’s lack of success over the last three seasons as a pinch-hitter, specifically against left-handed pitchers. Since the start of the 2016 season, Franco is 4-for-15 (.267) with one double and a .333 slugging percentage off the bench against lefties.
Rodriguez’s numbers in those situations are appreciably better. Over the same time period, he is 6-for-28 (.214) with seven walks, one double, two homers and a .464 slugging percentage.
Kapler conceded that Rodriguez has struggled at the plate. He's batting .207 with three doubles and three homers in 82 at-bats. But Kapler still believes he fits the profile of what the Phillies need off the bench.
“Sean certainly has not swung the bat great recently, but he plays short, he plays center [field], he plays right, he plays left, has a history against left-handed pitching in pinch-hitting situations,” Kapler said. “I think his OPS is near .900 in that particular situation. It’s something that Sean has done successfully over the last three years, and it’s something that Maikel has not done successfully over the last three years.”
It’s likely that Franco will be recalled once rosters expand in September, although his option to the minors must last for a minimum of 10 days. The Phillies figure to make several roster additions on or after Sept. 1, including recently acquired infielder Jose Pirela.
With his hamstring injury not healing as quickly as he would like, Pat Neshek is nearing a decision that could make him the third Phillies reliever to undergo season-ending surgery.
Neshek, who hasn't pitched since June 19, is considering either a platelet-rich plasma injection or surgery, according to Kapler. Either way, the 38-year-old sidearmer would miss the rest of the season.
The Phillies have already lost Tommy Hunter and David Robertson to season-ending injuries. Hunter had surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm, while Robertson had Tommy John elbow surgery. Hunter and Neshek are eligible for free agency after the season. Robertson has one year left on a two-year, $23 million contract.