Phillies Nuggets with Tim Kelly

With Kingery nearing return, Maikel Franco’s bat has gone ice cold



After a hot start, Maikel Franco is struggling. (Ian D’Andrea)

Philadelphia Phillies manager Gabe Kapler opened Spring Training by saying that Scott Kingery, a natural second baseman, was going to compete with Maikel Franco for time at third base. Franco ultimately won the starting third baseman’s job and got off to a scorching-hot start offensively, including homering twice in the first two games of the 2019 season.

But with Kingery nearing a return from a hamstring injury, it may be Franco, who has struggled offensively in May, that stands to lose the most playing time.

Franco made two impressive plays defensively in Friday’s win over the Rockies, but he struck out and was hitless in three at-bats. In the last seven days, Franco is hitting just .227. In May, he’s hitting just .208 with an unsightly .255 on-base percentage.

After tallying four hits in nine at-bats – two of which were home runs – in the Phillies season-opening series in the final days of March, Franco only hit .234 in April. The difference between April and May is that in April, Franco hit five home runs, drove in 15 runs and walked 11 times. In May, he has zero home runs and has walked just three times.

Kingery, meanwhile, hasn’t played at the major league level since April 19, when he strained his hamstring at Coors Field. The Colorado Rockies, ironically, are in Philadelphia this weekend. It’s unclear exactly when the Phillies plan to activate Kingery, but if it isn’t this weekend, it will likely be early next week. Kapler said last week that the Phillies plan to have Kingery return to the super-utility role when he’s activated.

One of the positions that Kingery gets some time at will almost certainly be second base. But Cesar Hernandez – despite a defensive decline that has seen him make five errors already in 2019 – is hitting .348 in May, the second best mark in the National League this month. As long as Hernandez continues to put together strong at-bats, he’ll be in Kapler’s lineup on most days.

With that in mind, Kingery played two positions Friday in a rehab appearance for Double-A Reading, neither of which was second base. One of those two positions was third base. You get the sense that when the 25-year-old is activated, he could immediately push Franco for time at third base.

That said, Kingery also saw some time in center field Friday. Odubel Herrera – who returned earlier this month from a hamstring injury of his own – has slashed an underwhelming .211/.268/.395 with just one home run in 104 at-bats in 2019. Mind you, this comes after Herrera slashed just .214/.279/.342 in 187 at-bats in the second-half of the 2018 season. Prior to Kingery’s injury, the Phillies planned to have him get some reps in center field. With Roman Quinn now on the injured list, Kingery may give the Phillies an alternative to a struggling Herrera.

All of this assumes, of course, that when Kingery returns, he hits the ground running. That perhaps shouldn’t be assumed considering he’s missed a month and has just two hits in his first 11 minor league rehab appearances. But in 32 at-bats prior to being injured, Kingery was hitting north of .400. 32 at-bats is a minuscule sample size, but after Kingery posted a -19.3 offensive WAR in a disappointing rookie season, it was a welcome sign.

Chances are that when Kingery returns, he’ll be in the lineup at least four or five times out seven games. In all likelihood, that time will be split at different positions. After all, that’s what a super-utility player does. But the feeling here is that the bulk of his playing time in May will come at the hot corner.

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