PHILADELPHIA -- Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco opened the season as the Phillies' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, but these days Herrera is losing playing time, and Franco is being discussed as a candidate to be optioned to Triple-A.Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Friday that the Phillies are standing
PHILADELPHIA -- Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco opened the season as the Phillies' Nos. 3 and 4 hitters, but these days Herrera is losing playing time, and Franco is being discussed as a candidate to be optioned to Triple-A.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Friday that the Phillies are standing by their beleaguered center fielder and third baseman. Herrera entered the series opener against the Giants hitting .218 with three home runs, 14 RBIs and a .589 OPS, which ranks 166th out of 173 qualified hitters. Franco entered the game hitting .216 with six home runs, 28 RBIs and a .625 OPS, which ranked 163rd.
"We always have to be open to changing our minds, but … we want to continue to show confidence in Maikel that he can bust out of this," Klentak said. "Number one, we've seen it before. He can get on hot streaks where he can carry a club through an extended stretch of time. And number two, there are some reasons to believe that he's been the victim of some poor luck."
Franco is walking more and striking out less than last season. He is chasing fewer pitches out of the strike zone (25 percent) compared to last season (32.1 percent), according to Statcast™. His average exit velocity (89.2 mph) is similar to last season's average (89.6 mph). It explains how his expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) -- which factors in the hitter's quality of contact, plus strikeouts and walks -- is in line with his 2016 numbers.
His xwOBA is .329 compared to .326 last season, meaning Franco has not been as bad as his numbers indicate. Of course, on the flip side, Franco's overall numbers last season ranked toward the bottom of qualified third basemen.
"I'm not trying to blame bad luck on this entirely, that's not what I'm doing," Klentak said. "The only way to cure it right now is to keep running him out there and letting the batted balls take care of themselves. We have confidence in him and we're going to continue to show it. As far as how long that leash is, that's never something we're going to project too far in advance."
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin benched Herrera on Friday. Mackanin said he is going to start rotating his outfielders now that Howie Kendrick is off the disabled list. But Mackanin said players that hit will remain in the lineup, meaning Herrera could see his playing time reduced until he starts producing.
Herrera is chasing 41.8 percent of his pitches outside the strike zone, which ranks eighth in baseball out of 432 batters that have seen 50 pitches. Herrera chased 35.3 percent in 2015 and 34.8 percent last season.
"I think Herrera is a streaky hitter," Klentak said. "Even in his All-Star season last year we saw that. He came out of the gates great, he struggled toward the middle part of the season and really turned it on again late. So we've seen some ups and downs from him in his young career.
"I think Odubel is a candidate to bust out and get four hits in a game any day now. That's the style of player he is. In Odubel's case the value he provides the team on defense alone warrants his inclusion in the lineup. Obviously he's more valuable when he's hitting as well but his defense -- he's truly one of the better defensive players in baseball -- so he is providing plenty of value even when he is in an offensive slump."
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.