WASHINGTON - Pete Mackanin gave struggling Maikel Franco a day off on Wednesday. The schedule-maker gave Franco a day off on Thursday. Mother Nature gave him a day off on Friday.
With heavy rains barreling up the coast, the Washington Nationals postponed Friday night's scheduled game against the Phillies. Rain began falling in the District about 3 p.m. and was heavy by 4, with more on the way. The game was postponed before 5 p.m.
The postponement means the teams will play a separate-admission doubleheader on Sunday. Game times are 1:30 and 7 p.m. The teams will open the series with their regularly scheduled game Saturday night at 7:05 p.m.
Nick Pivetta (0-2, 5.40) will pitch against Nats' right-hander Tanner Roark (3-1, 3.46) on Saturday night.
Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.49) will pitch against lefty Gio Gonzalez (3-1, 2.64) on Sunday afternoon.
Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.94) will oppose Max Scherzer (4-2, 2.59) on Sunday night.
The Phillies and Nationals have already played nine times this season, with the Nats winning five times.
Mackanin had already posted his lineup on the clubhouse wall before Friday night's game had been rained out. It included a new wrinkle. Franco was back in the starting lineup after being held out Wednesday (he did pinch-hit in that game), but he was not in his customary cleanup spot. He had been dropped to sixth. Franco had hit either cleanup or third (once) in all his starts this season.
Mackanin said he was trying to take some pressure off Franco, who is hitless in his last 15 at-bats. Franco went 1 for 17 on the recently-completed homestand to fall to .207 on the season. His on-base percentage is just .279 and he's slugging just .355. Despite his struggles, he has 25 RBIs, which puts him just outside the top 10 in the National League. But eight of those RBIs came on two swings - a pair of grand slams in April.
On top of all this, Franco has made five errors, which tied him for the most among NL third basemen entering Friday.
Washington has never been a good matchup for Franco. He is 18 for 122 (.148) in his career against the Nats and 2 for 34 (.059) this season.
This is a big year for the 24-year-old Franco as he tries to convince the front office he is a player worth building around. The jury is still very much undecided. If the front office decides that Franco is not a foundation player, it could look to trade him this offseason, or maybe even sooner. The only way to make these determinations and get Franco the at-bats that he needs to get out of his funk and put up the middle-of-the-order numbers this offense needs is to play him - even if it means not hitting cleanup.
"Just a different surrounding," Mackanin said. "Just jumble it a little bit. Change it up, different look.
"Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. He took extra batting practice working on what he needs to do. I give him credit. He's working hard to try to make adjustments. He just needs to learn how to not swing so hard. That's a key."
New hitting coach Matt Stairs has stressed a middle-of-the-diamond hitting approach with Franco, and the player has responded.
In batting practice.
He's had trouble carrying the approach into games, which is not unusual because it's difficult to un-teach and players often revert back to habits when the action is coming at them in game speed.
Will Franco ever make the improvements he needs to?
"You know, I don't know," Mackanin said. "I'm not saying he's going backward. But I'm just saying he started making improvements and he's at a stalemate right now. I'm hoping it'll click one day."
Mackanin mentioned the changes that red-hot Aaron Altherr has made at the plate and offered them as hope that Franco can improve.
"It's just like with Altherr: He changed drastically," Mackanin said. "You have to be able to change drastically to your approach. If you're making the same outs the same way over and over again, you have to realize it and know what you're doing and work to not make outs that same way.
"At some point, he's going to get it. I think he will. Hopefully sooner or later."
Franco's future with the Phillies could ride on whether he gets it.
In the meantime, he's 4 for 20 lifetime with four RBIs, a walk and three strikeouts against Roark, the Nats' starter on Saturday night.
Aaron Nola's next minor-league rehab start will come on Monday in Rochester, New York. He will pitch for Triple A Lehigh Valley.