Maikel Franco pain-free, hopes to return to Phillies' lineup soon
Rookie third baseman takes some swings without discomfort for the first time since fracturing his wrist in August.
MAIKEL FRANCO might return to the Phillies lineup in 2015 after all.
A week after continuing to feel discomfort in his left wrist after hitting, Franco took 20 swings in the cage yesterday: 10 dry swings, and 10 hitting off a batting tee. It went about as well as he could have hoped.
"No pain at all," Franco said. "I feel fine. Everything feels good."
Franco suffered a small fracture in his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch on Aug. 11 in Arizona. His return this season appeared unlikely when he tried to take batting practice last week in New York - with a month left in the season - but still felt pain.
Franco finally feels healthy and will continue with his current, light progressions before he's cleared to take batting practice with his teammates, which could come before the weekend ends. If he continues to progress without any setbacks, Franco could return for the final two weeks of the season.
Manager Pete Mackanin said Franco would head to Clearwater, Fla., for game-speed at-bats in a quasi-rehab before rejoining the Phillies; the minor league regular season ended Monday.
"As long as he's 100 percent healthy, and it boils down to how many at-bats he feels comfortable with in Clearwater," Mackanin said. "If he plays two or three games, feels good, and we're getting good reports and he's [eager] to get back, we'd like to have him back ASAP. It'd be good to have him back. We miss his bat."
Franco, a National League Rookie of the Year candidate when he was injured last month, has been as pivotal a piece as any in the Phillies' rebuilding lineup in 2015.
The Phillies are 22-40 (.355 winning percentage) in the 62 games they've played without Franco (before he was called up from Triple A on May 15, and after he was hurt). With Franco healthy and available, the Phillies are 32-46 (.410 winning percentage).
The Phillies are averaging 3.52 runs per game without Franco and 4.09 runs per game with him. The National League average for runs per game is 4.13.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's really important to have an anchor in the 3-4-5 area [of a lineup]," Mackanin said. "If you have got guys that can get on base and can run, and then have guys that can drive them in, that's the ingredients to having a successful offense."
Is Franco talented enough to hit in the middle of a lineup on a playoff-caliber team?
"I'd like to think that he will be," Mackanin said. "He's made a real good impression. We've seen him develop over the last couple years and turn himself into a pretty dangerous hitter. And as young as he is, I think he can certainly fit in the middle."
Franco is hitting .277 with 13 home runs and a .830 OPS in 77 games this season. On the night he was injured, Franco led all rookies in both leagues (mininum 200 plate appearances) in OPS and slugging percentage (.490). Only three NL rookies had more home runs and only one (teammate Odubel Herrera) had as many doubles.
Franco turned 23 only two weeks ago. Given his importance to the team's lineup in 2016 and beyond, the Phillies are still likely to continue to proceed with caution with his current injury.
Odubel Herrera entered the night leading all major league rookies in hitting (.302) and doubles (26). He ranked fifth in OBP (.339). If he maintains a .300-or-better average and steals one more base, Herrera would become the first Phillies rookie to hit .300, steal 15 bases and hit 25 doubles in a season since Kiddo Davis in 1932. Chase Utley was the last Phillies player, period, to reach that trifecta, in 2006 . . . According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tuesday night's 5-0 win marked the first time in 23 seasons the Phillies had a rookie starting pitcher not allow a run in a winning effort (Aaron Nola) while getting at least three RBI from another rookie (Herrera). The last time that happened, on Sept. 26, 1992, Ben Rivera was the pitcher and current general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was the hitter . . . On this date in Phillies history (2009), Matt Stairs hit a grand slam in a 8-7 loss at Washington. It was Stairs' fifth pinch-hit home run of the season, setting a single-season franchise record. Stairs, now a Phillies broadcaster, is baseball's all-time leader in pinch-hit home runs, with 23 in 19 seasons. He hit seven of those 23 home runs in a year (2009) and one month (2008) with the Phillies.