Phased-out But Not Checked-out, Maikel Franco Plows on in Diminished Role

Maikel Franco was not in the Phillies' starting lineup for a fourth straight game Sunday. He was held out of the lineup Friday and Saturday because he has a little head cold, but, frankly, that sounded like a convenient excuse.

Franco said Sunday morning that he comes to the park ready to play every day. He was groomed to be an everyday player, but after two months of inconsistency - and more dating to last season - he now finds himself as a part-time player, picking up reps at third base when J.P. Crawford isn't getting a look at the position.

Though management has denied it, it feels as if Franco is being phased out. He does not have the on-base skills that manager Gabe Kapler and the front office seeks in the players it wants to build around. He has not made the necessary improvements in that area that would secure his future with the club and it's no secret that Manny Machado looms out there as a July trade target or free-agent signing possibility.

It's not an easy time for Franco, who is one of the most likable people in the Phillies clubhouse.

"I understand what's happening right now," he said Sunday morning. "I understand what the manager is trying to do with everybody. I know the situation."

With Machado looming and the team looking for a place for Scott Kingery to play, Franco, whose .690 OPS was the lowest among 18 third basemen with at least 400 plate appearances last season, was on a short leash coming into this season. He let the regular third base job slip through his fingers by hitting just .247 with a .704 OPS in his first 190 at-bats. He did have eight homers and 32 RBIs over that span.

Lately, however, Franco's performance has really slipped. Since May 16, he is hitting .197 (13 for 66) with just two extra-base hits and a .500 OPS, and his defense has been unsteady. With Kingery now getting reps at shortstop, third base became a place for the team to look at Crawford as he came off the disabled list last week.

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Both Kapler and general manager Matt Klentak have said that Franco will get time against left-handed pitching and as other matchups warrant, but it's clear the team has lost some faith in him. If it hadn't, he'd be out there.

"The only thing that I know is I have faith in me," Franco said. "That's the only truth. Every single day, I just come in and try to do my best for me, for my team, and try to be a good teammate."

Franco was groomed to be an everyday guy. There are pluses to his game, such as how hard he hits the ball when he makes good contact. He is still young at 25. He seems like a candidate for a fresh start with a new team. What does Franco think about that?

"I'm not looking at it that way," he said. "I'm just looking day to day here and seeing what's going to happen. I don't want to think about that right now. I just want to think about right here because my moment is right here. That's where I have to be right now. Whatever happens happens. I'm a grown man. I understand the situation and I totally get it. I want what's best for me, you know what I mean? But whatever situation and whatever tough moment it is right now, I'll just take it. I don't want to feel sorry for myself. I know I can do better. I know my talent. I'm just trying to be ready."

That's all a part-time player can do, try to stay sharp and be ready when the manager calls on you.

"I've never been in that situation before," he said of the challenges of playing part-time. "I can't tell you if it's going to work or not. I'm not used to it because all my career, even in the minor leagues, I played every single day. When I came here I played every single day, too. I don't know if that's going to work. I don't know how that's going to go. But I'll just try to figure it out. I'll just do everything that I can do to improve that situation. We'll see what's going to happen."

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