It is time once again for a Phillies 97.3 ESPN Monday Mailbag. We take your questions every Monday and then we talk about them during the Sports Bash with Mike Gill on Tuesday afternoons at 2:30 p.m. If you are not in South Jersey, you can listen online at 973espn.com.
Would the Phillies consider demoting Maikel Franco to Triple-A?
There is no doubt about it: Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco is struggling mightily. A week ago we were worried about a very slight knee sprain. But in the last seven games, Franco is batting just .174 with one home run and just one run batted in, his home run. He has struck out eight times and walked once in that span. That is cause for concern.
It was enough concern for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin that Mackanin dropped Franco down in the batting order to sixth on both Saturday and Sunday, and then gave Franco off in Monday's finale against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Making matters worse, Freddy Galvis is batting .083 in his last seven games, and Tommy Joseph is just 2 for his last 35. These other players struggling makes it just that much worse for Franco.
However, I do not think that the Phillies would go so far as to demote Franco to AAA Lehigh Valley. A few years ago when the Phillies were expected to win, there was no real time to be patient with any of their young players. Franco is indeed performing below expectations. However, a minor league stint will not necessarily help matters too much at this point.
Franco, Galvis, Joseph, and others will simply have to work out their struggles at the Major League level. Heading into Minneapolis to face the Minnesota Twins for three games, the Phillies will be facing one of the weaker pitching staffs in the league. The designated hitter will be used for all three games, so the Phillies hitters should see lots of at bats against weaker pitching. Hopefully that will help them find their groove again.
How much is Pete Mackanin to blame for the recent Phillies tailspin?
The Phillies new they were getting a patient guy when former GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. elevated his former winter league manager to be the Phillies skipper. The level-headed Mackanin has what it takes to deal with the current roster: young players who need patience, and some older players who perhaps are not what they used to be. Mackanin will not let a player walk all over him or give up hustling (as we saw with the Odubel Herrera benching several weeks back), but generally he is well-liked.
Mackanin should be judged not by the product on the field, but how he managed the personalities he has in the season that he has them.
For starters, Mackanin handled the Ryan Howard situation pretty well. While no one was pushing Howard from behind before the emergence of Tommy Joseph in the minors, Mackanin was very open and honest with Howard. In fact, the leadership that Mackanin showed in this situation created a better situation for Joseph, who could easily be worried about Howard's presence.
Mackanin has the task of helping get the young players through their slumps. We have frequently talked about baseball being a game of adjustments, and many of the young Phillies are in adjustment mode right now. Struggles for the likes of Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco are almost to be expected in the second year (thus the "sophomore slump" term thrown around). Mackanin is candid when players are failing to adjust in a way that players respect.
We can pick apart some of Mackanin's moves, such as batting the pitcher eighth, but the real test will be where the players are at the end of the season. If we can look at the Phillies young players and identify assets and dismiss the others for the future, then Mackanin has done a fine job. It is a long season, and Mackanin will have to keep the course going steady until the last game in September.
What's the latest on Vince Velasquez? When he returns, what pitcher will be out?
There was good news from the Phillies on starter Vince Velasquez on Monday. Velasquez is slated to head to Double-A Reading for a rehab start on Wednesday. Velasquez remarked that he thought that he might only need one, but the Phillies should not be in too big a rush to bring their young starter back.
The disabled list stint was mostly a "let's not take chances" stint. While the strain to Velasquez's bicep is not considered severe, the Phillies are not about to expose any of their young talent to risk in the rebuilding 2016 season. The most alarming sign was that Velasquez had a velocity of 87 and 86 pitches in that last start he began against the Chicago Cubs on June 8. If his velocity is back in rehab, the Phillies probably will be ready for his removal.
While many Phillies fans are tiring of the pitching of Adam Morgan, I think that Zach Eflin is the one more in need of seasoning at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Eflin was scheduled to start June 8, the same day that Velasquez exited his Cubs start. That day the Phillies said they were going to give Eflin a few days rest before his next start.
However, Eflin ended up pitching the very next day for the IronPigs, and five days later he was getting shelled in his Major League debut in Toronto. Eflin's second start was much better, giving up just two earned runs. I think the Phillies would like to see Eflin pitch another decent game and send him down for more seasoning on a high note. Chances are good that Eflin will be back, but Morgan has given the club two "quality starts" out of his last three starts and may be further along in his development right now.