Gabe Kapler batting Phillies’ Maikel Franco eighth wasn’t so dumb after all | Marcus Hayes
Last week, it seemed insulting to bat a power-hitting beast at the bottom of the lineup. This week, it seems brilliant.
Outside of arguments with my wife, I’ve never been so demonstrably wrong about something so quickly.
In this space last week, I criticized the Phillies’ plan to bat third baseman Maikel Franco eighth in the Phillies’ newly loaded lineup. I predicted that, as a hitter who struggles to hit breaking balls, he would see a steady diet of them. I predicted that, as a hitter with natural power who spent most of his career in the middle of the lineup, he would grow frustrated and would constantly be pitched around or intentionally walked, because teams would rather face the pitcher or a pinch-hitter. That would waste his power — which, I predicted, would be better seated in the No. 6 slot.
That argument for such a hitter is both sound and logical.
That argument falls apart when the hitter in question begins the season on pace for 162 home runs and 486 RBI.
Franco hit a three-run homer in the Phillies’ opener Thursday, a 10-4 win. He hit a two-run homer in the teams’ second game Saturday, which gave the Phillies their first lead. He poked an RBI single to rightfield for an 8-4 advantage in what became an 8-6 win. That gave him two homers and six RBI in two games — a scorching pace.
He added an RBI single Sunday night, and stands at 4-for-9 with those two home runs, seven RBI and three walks.
There have been all sorts of mitigating factors, and there have been plenty of instances I correctly foresaw, but the bottom line is, Franco rakes at No. 8. His manager, Gabe Kapler, foresaw that.
“I continue to think that where he is in the lineup is a really good spot for him,” Kapler said Saturday night. “I think he has very little pressure on him there. I think he’s forced to be more patient at times, and see a few more pitches. I think that locks him in further.”
Franco did not disagree.
“Hitting eighth, I’m in better control of my emotions. I don’t swing at everything. I don’t try to cover everything. I feel more confident,” Franco told me Saturday. “I know the first five or six innings will be tough. I know I have the pitcher behind me. I know, in many situations, they’re not going to give me a good pitch to hit.”
That mindset didn’t keep Franco from striking out in his first at-bat of the season, on seven pitches, five of them breaking balls. And he was intentionally walked once in both games, and he should have been intentionally walked in another instance, when he hit his second homer. And neither home run came on his nemesis pitch, the slider — the first was a fastball, the second a changeup — and were thrown with lethal pinch hitter Nick Williams either on deck or nearby.
None of which matters at the moment. He could be angry. He could be pouting. Before this season, he’d batted between third and sixth in 1,807 of his career 2,111 plate appearances, or more than 85 percent of the time. That included an eight-game stretch last July, when he was 11-for-25 with two homers, seven RBI and a 1.237 OPS.
The Phillies referenced that run when they decided to bat Franco eighth, behind Odubel Hererra and, the likeliest candidate, former leadoff hitter Cesar Hernandez. For his part, Hernandez is 3-for-8 and has scored three runs hitting just in front of Franco.
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Yes, it’s only two games, but Franco is 3-for-6 with a 2.125 OPS. It seems as if he is a much more mature and disciplined hitter than I gave him credit for. It also appears that Kapler knows Franco better than I do.
It appears that Franco, 26 and in his fourth full season, has adjusted to his new spot the way any selfless veteran would adjust.
"When you hit fifth or sixth, in a 3-2 count, they’re going to throw you something close to the plate. But when you have the pitcher behind you, they’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to give him anything to hit right now. If I walk him, it’s OK,’ " Franco said. “I know they’re going to throw me more breaking balls. Some kind of weird pitch.”
He has kept things simple.
“Find my good pitch to hit," he said. "That’s what I’m doing right now.
"I just go up there, and I think about nothing. "
Maybe I should try that.
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