A sweep at the hands of the Marlins? Not with Aaron Nola on the mound. The Phillies enter today's off day with their first win since last Friday thanks to an excellent effort from Nola, who continues to blossom into one of the league's top pitchers. It was a win the Phillies needed as they gear up for the weekend series against the Nationals. But there is still concern. Scott Kingery's status is uncertain, Carlos Santana continues to struggle, and Rhys Hoskins' OPS has dipped all the way to .954. OK, maybe it's not yet time to worry too much about Hoskins. Enjoy the off day and get ready for Sunday, when Jake Arrieta faces Max Scherzer.
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It was obvious that Scott Kingery would benefit from J.P. Crawford's injury, as Kingery would finally have an everyday position to play. But another benefit has been Maikel Franco, who was being bumped from the lineup whenever the Phillies felt the need to get Kingery into the lineup at third base.
It seems Franco's everyday role at third is coming at the right time. He doubled in two runs Wednesday night and went 2 for 4 for his second multi-hit game of the series. He's batting .300 with seven RBIs over his last eight games. But most importantly, he has just four strikeouts in his last 33 plate appearances.
Franco is driving in runs and cutting back on his strikeouts while he shows some plate discipline. This was billed as a crucial season for Franco, because the Phillies plan to spend big next winter on free agency. And he looks to be responding as the season's second month begins. With Crawford out, Franco will get an extended chance to prove his worth.
Is Aaron Nola an ace? He sure looked like it Wednesday night. The Phillies needed a win to avoid an embarrassing sweep in Miami and Nola delivered. He became the first Phillies pitcher since Cole Hamels on July 25, 2015 – the day of his no-hitter in Chicago – to retire 17 consecutive batters. When Nola's on the mound, Gabe Kapler said the Phillies have an "extra degree of confidence." That's what an ace can bring.
Nick Williams was out of the lineup again Wednesday night, and he has started just once in the last week. But Kapler said Williams is still "learning a lot every day" in the majors and the team does not plan to send him to triple A. It seems the Phillies are content with trying to mold Williams into a bench player.
Scott Kingery said he expects to avoid the disabled list after being hit in the arm by a pitch Tuesday night. The Phillies rested Kingery on Wednesday to give him an extra day of rest before Thursday's off day. Kingery aims to be in the lineup Friday against the Nationals.
Today: The Phils are off
Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta vs. Washington's Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Vince Velasquez vs. Tanner Roark, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta vs. Max Scherzer, 1:35 p.m.
Jorge Alfaro might be tapping into his strong arm behind the plate. The catcher threw out Marlins speedster Lewis Brinson on Wednesday night to complete a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play. Alfaro, according to MLB's Statcast, has the strongest arm among major-league catchers with an average throw to second base of 90.1 mph. His average pop time — how long it takes for the catcher to get the ball from his glove to second base — is the fourth fastest in baseball. He has the athleticism and arm to be an excellent defensive catcher. The results are starting to show.
Question: I'm getting tired of Santana hitting the ball hard into outs and his imaginary, should-have-been-a-hit average. Has Kapler considered moving Rhys Hoskins to 1st base and putting Nick Williams into the outfield (pick a corner) and giving Carlos Santana some rest and time to reflect? – Alicia T., email