De Fratus could be another solution for Phillies in late innings

Posted: June 02, 2014

IN A WEEK that featured one player contracting a MRSA infections (Freddy Galvis), another suffering a serious rib-cage injury (Darin Ruf) and another disappearing from camp altogether (Kevin Frandsen), it was easy for Justin De Fratus to fall below the radar as the Phillies' time in Clearwater, Fla. began to draw to a close in March.

But De Fratus was completely OK with that. Not with catching the flu bug for 9 days and being sidelined from throwing for 6 days, of course.

But with the idea of not making headlines for reasons neither good nor bad. Middle relievers, much like placekickers in football, know they're going well if they can do their job and go largely unnoticed.

De Fratus has done just that since returning to the big leagues last week: He put together three straight scoreless outings in the last week.

"He's shown an improved fastball," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He looks strong and healthy, which was a concern coming out of spring training. He's had some good outings. That's something he can build on for sure."

Last year, in his first full season in the big leagues, De Fratus had a 3.86 ERA, while striking out 42 and walking 25 in 46 2/3 innings. Only closer Jonathan Papelbon made more appearances out of the Phillies' bullpen than De Fratus (58 games) in 2013.

Having pitched in the seventh inning or later in 47 of those 58 games, De Fratus could be an under-the-radar candidate to help fill a seasonlong void this season: The Phillies have failed to find a righthanded reliever to complement veteran Mike Adams in front of Papelbon.

People ask Sandberg and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. about hard-throwing Triple A prospect Kenny Giles multiple times every week, but Giles can't win that role while at Lehigh Valley. De Fratus could work himself into those innings if he continues to get regular outs.

But DeFratus, 26, is unconcerned with bullpen roles. After being sent down to Triple A in mid-April, but maintaining his residence in Philly, De Fratus did a lot of deep thinking during his commute to Allentown.

"Honestly, my goals have changed," he said. "Right now, I have no other goal than trying to execute a pitch, and that's it. I don't care who's up, I don't care what inning, what the situation is. If I execute a pitch, more times than not, I'm going to do well. Nothing else matters . . . Nothing matters other than making one pitch. When you can do that, it's fine."

No Franco yet

Cesar Hernandez was out of last night's starting lineup after making seven straight starts at third base, a position he began playing only in mid-March. But top prospect Maikel Franco did not start in his place.

Franco remained at Triple A Lehigh Valley while utility infielder Reid Brignac made his first start of the season with the Phillies. When Cody Asche was placed on the DL with a hamstring injury last weekend, Amaro said the organization was having some talk about promoting Franco.

Apparently those talks are no longer active.

"He's hitting about .235, .238," Sandberg said of Franco, who entered last night's game in Durham hitting .238 on the season. "He was down for a couple of days [sick last weekend]. I haven't heard much since that on how he's doing."

Franco entered the day 5-for-16 (.316) with a double and a triple in his previous four games. And his season batting average is a bit deceiving, at least if it makes you think he's struggling in International League play.

After an awful first 3 weeks (.134 in 18 games), Franco has hit well for the IronPigs. In a 31-game span beginning April 23, Franco hit .295 with an .847 OPS, four home runs, nine doubles and a triple entering yesterday.

Earlier this week, Sandberg said he rated Franco as a better defender at third base than Asche.

Asche is eligible to return from the disabled list on Thursday. He is rehabbing in Clearwater.

On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21


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