Maikel Franco’s surge triggers one by Phillies

Maikel Franco jogged toward the dugout from third base and leaped in the air. Franco congratulated Hector Neris on his strikeout to end the eighth inning by tapping him on the head as Neris crossed the first-base line.

A few minutes later, Franco had another reason to celebrate. His home run to left-center stretched the Phillies’ lead to four runs in a 7-2 win over the Royals on Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

“He’s always aggressive,” manager Pete Mackanin said of Franco. “Aggressive hitters are always going to come up big now and then.”

The 23-year-old third baseman finished the day 3 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs. His contributions continued a string of successful games for Franco coinciding with his team winning seven of the last 10.

Since June 24, Franco has recorded 15 hits in 36 at-bats to go along with eight RBIs and seven runs.

As he stepped into the batter’s box against Brian Flynn, Franco prepared to see a fastball. His aggressive nature paid off on the first pitch of the at-bat. If Franco sees a slider or change-up, he’ll adjust on the fly, he said. But the pitch he prepared for is the one he launched over the wall.

“He threw me a fastball right there in the middle and I put good contact on it,” Franco said.

Being aggressive has sometimes cost him. Occasionally earlier in the season, Franco’s head wouldn’t stay level while he batted, taking him out of position from making solid contact.

But on his recent streak, he has worked on keeping his balance to hit through the middle of the field.

“He still has his moments where he spins off the ball,” Mackanin said, “but they’re few and far between now.”

In his first at-bat of the game, Franco sneaked a two-out grounder into left field past Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar and third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert. Cameron Rupp homered on the next pitch to give the Phillies a three-run lead in the first.

With runners on second and third and two outs in the fifth, Franco came through again. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, his dribbler down the third-base line rolled between Cuthbert and pitcher Dillon Gee and brought in Odubel Herrera to score.

Whether it’s mashing the ball over the fence or not even getting it out of the infield, Franco’s offensive game is paying dividends.

“See the ball, hit the ball,” Franco said, “and that’s what I’m doing right now.”

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