MILWAUKEE — Maikel Franco's playing time has already been pinched. And Friday night — thanks to the defensive growth of J.P. Crawford — it became even tighter.
Franco sat Friday night against Brewers lefthander Brent Suter, despite the indication that he would start against lethanded pitching as the Phillies approached third base with a platoon. But Crawford's defense, Kapler said before Friday's game, was "so valuable" with Jake Arrieta and his high ground-ball rate on the mound. So Franco stayed on the bench.
Franco has started just one of the last nine games since Crawford returned to the lineup following a stint on the disabled list. His struggles at the plate — a .221 on-base percentage in his last 86 plate appearances — were keeping him on the bench. But now his glove is, too. It became even clearer on Friday that Crawford — who played just 13 professional games at third base before this week — is the team's third baseman of preference.
"I love it over there," Crawford said of third base. "I love getting a chance to play everyday and feel like I'm getting into a groove. I'm loving where things are going right now and hopefully I can just keep it going."
General manager Matt Klentak said last week that Crawford's defense could factor into how the team distributes playing time at third. He said Crawford played third-base at an "elite level" last September when he reached the majors and Freddy Galvis was still at shortstop. Crawford is extremely athletic and quick and those traits — which give him such a strong range at shortstop — seemed to carry over to third.
Crawford's adaption to third base granted him an everyday role when he returned from the DL and he has responded at the plate. He entered Friday with a .391 on-base percentage in his first week back as could be starting to show the ability to reach base at the rate the Phillies saw in the minor leagues. It was enough for Kapler to bat him ninth Friday for a second straight game, the lineup spot reserved for a batter with the ability to get on base in front of the top of the order.
"I need to capitalize on it," Crawford said.
Crawford began the season as the starting shortstop before he spent more than a month on the disabled list. His absence created a chance for Scott Kingery, who played primarily second base in the minor leagues, to carve an everyday role at shortstop. Crawford returned last week, but the Phillies did not want to disrupt Kingery. So they sent Crawford to third as Franco's bat was asking to be disrupted. And now his glove is, too.
"Being athletic over there and with Scott over there, I don't think too many balls are going to be hit between that little hole, the 5-6 hole as much anymore," Crawford said. "Hopefully, just keep getting better over there and getting more reps. I'm having fun over there."