7:37 PM PDT, August 18, 2012
PHILADELPHIA — With a disabled list that has been overflowing with Phillies most of the season, the last thing you wanted was for Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco to join the list of visitors.
Ruiz was among the league's top hitters when he went down with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. And Polanco, although he was struggling offensively, was still one of the game's best defensively at third base despite having lower back inflammation that necessitated a cortisone shot.
The injuries prompted roster moves which have allowed guys who otherwise weren't getting much of a shot, a chance to prove their worth.
Now, with how well Kevin Frandsen and Erik Kratz have done, it's sparking talk that they are auditioning for roles on the club's 25-man roster next season.
When Polanco initially went down, the Phillies tried to fill in with Mike Fontenot and Ty Wigginton. The Fontenot experiment went so poorly that the Phillies released him. Wigginton, while not as disastrous at third base as Fontenot, was far from the answer.
So the Phillies decided to give Frandsen a shot.
The 30-year-old isn't a Gold Glove third baseman like Polanco — to be fair Frandsen is a natural second baseman — but he's much steadier there than his two predecessors. And offensively, he's getting lots of praise, and rightfully so.
In 17 games (all starts), he's hitting .333 (21-for-63) with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs. He's walked twice and struck out three times. He's read opposing infielders well and laid down some perfectly timed and perfectly placed bunts. He's gone hitless in only three games and never in back-to-back games. He came up with a big, bases-clearing double on a 3-2 pitch in the fifth inning Thursday that gave the Phillies a 4-3 lead in a game they were trailing 3-1.
It's best not to talk too much to Frandsen about those numbers and how they could factor into the Phillies' 2013 plans. He's already been disappointed when he thought he had a shot at reserving his spot on a roster. In 2010, Frandsen hit .250 in 54 games with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but the club chose to non-tender him (he was arbitration eligible but the organization opted not to offer him arbitration, and in turn he became a free agent).
"if I get looking ahead, that's only going to play against me," he told The Morning Call. "My thought is, if I take care of today, then tomorrow's going to be fine. I think it's a great way to live. Last time I was in Anaheim and I started thinking, 'Man, this could be a great spot for me,' and I got non-tendered. That's not the way to do it, no matter how you play."
Frandsen's chances will be more limited soon. Polanco started a rehab assignment with Single-A Clearwater this week and isn't far from returning. It's doubtful that Frandsen will be the one sent down to Triple-A Lehigh Valley (Michael Martinez is the most likely candidate), but he won't be playing every day like he is now.
He's well aware of that, and of how fast things can turn for him. After appearing in 109 games with the Giants in 2007, a Achilles injury forced him to miss all but one game in 2008. The following year, Frandsen was shuffled between Triple-A and the big leagues and played in only 23 games for San Francisco.
"That's always what I fed off of," Frandsen said of being the underdog. "You grind out for one day and hopefully that next day comes. Always need to be going. It's the day that I step back and get relaxed that somebody can pass me by."
Kratz has been passed by more times than he cares to remember. The Telford native, originally taken by the Blue Jays in the 29th round of the 2002 draft, didn't make his MLB debut until July 17, 2010. He then appeared in only nine games with the Pirates before being optioned back to Triple-A. He was released that September by Pittsburgh.
The catcher spent all of 2011 with the IronPigs before being a September call-up. He played in just two games last year.
Now, though, Kratz has Charlie Manuel's attention. The manager has praised his swing, his work ethic, his power --- he has five home runs in 55 at-bats, giving him the best at-bat to home run ratio on the team) and his durability, and it's prompted him to get significant playing time.
Kratz, 32, has played in 23 games this season. He's hitting .273 (15-for-55) with 13 RBIs, seven walks and 12 strikeouts. Eleven of his hits have gone for extra bases, giving him a .655 slugging percentage.
"You're not going to sit there and stay complacent," Kratz said. "You're going to give everything that you have and want to get your uniform dirty to win the game."
The Phillies will have a decision to make with their backup catcher next season. Northampton graduate Brian Schneider is arguably the best, second-string defensive catcher in the game. But he turns 36 in November, and has spent time on the DL in each of his three seasons with the Phillies (Achilles strain in 2010, hamstring strain in 2011, high ankle sprain in 2012).
"He's durable," Manuel said of Kratz. "You can beat him up. You can play him, muscle him around and everything. You can use him. You can treat him tough. That's a part I like about him. The other part about it is he's definitely capable of hitting a homer. He's big and strong and if he makes contact and gets the fat part of the bat on the ball, he can definitely hurt you."
Kratz likes the sounds of all those compliments, but isn't booking for an apartment in Center City for next season just yet.
"You think you may be in a certain situation but in reality you're far from it," Kratz said. "To think too far ahead, to think past tomorrow's pitcher, to think past tomorrow's start, it's hard to do because you're going to miss out on things."
So far, though, neither Frandsen nor Kratz have missed out on their chances to impress.
0.97: The lowest career WHIP ever recorded in Major League Baseball. Cleveland's Addie Joss pitched 2,327 innings from 1902-1920 during which he was 160-97 with a career ERA of 1.89.
Did you know?
Kevin Frandsen's mom played field hockey at San Jose State University and his dad played baseball there. … Roy Halladay has finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting seven times. … After throwing two complete game shutouts in 2009, Hamels didn't throw any during the regular season in 2010 or 2011. … Laynce Nix's only career grand slam came off of John Smoltz in 2009. … Juan Pierre is one of only two players (Ron LeFlore) in MLB history to lead the American League and the National League in stolen bases.
Catching up with … Reds utilityman Wilson Valdez
Valdez, traded in the offseason for left-handed reliever Jeremy Horst, has had similar production with Cincinnati as he did with Philadelphia. Valdez is hitting .210 (26-for-124) with three doubles, 11 RBIs, five walks and 24 strikeouts. But defensively, he's been as steady as ever. He's made just one error this season. It came at third base, a position he's played for 48 2/3 innings this year. He has yet to commit an error this year at shortstop (118 1/3 innings), second base (73 innings) or in the outfield (35 innings).
Danny Espinosa (Washington Nationals) … The switch-hitter has helped keep the Nats atop the NL East standings, especially in the last week. Over his last six games, Espinosa, 25, hit .417 (10-for-24) with five RBIs and seven runs scored. Four of his 10 hits went for extra bases (two doubles, two home runs), giving him a .750 slugging percentage.
Brian McCann (Atlanta Braves) … The catcher, usually one of the team's biggest offensive threats, has lost his swing during his last six games. Over that stretch, he had just one hit in 21 at-bats (.048), dropping his season batting average from .241 to .229. He struck out five times and walked twice.
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