I was pretty giddy last night when Jeff Francoeur got up in the Phillies’ bullpen, ready to mop up in their big loss to the Orioles. I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with the guy, but the third act of his career has been nothing but wonderful.
Since he left Kansas City he has been an ultimate team player, gladly accepting his lot in the Padres farm system last year, doing whatever he was asked to to do, including pitch several times. Then signing with a Phillies team where he knew he was a stop-gap as they try to rebuild, but doing it with clear eyes and a good attitude. Despite the good-guy Jeff Francoeur narrative of the past, that wasn’t always the case with him.
He sulked about demotions when he was in Atlanta. Later, with the Rangers and Mets, he and his agent complained about his playing time through the media, with the seeming belief that he was a far better and far more important player than he truly was. But that Jeff Francoeur is long gone. His always-great personal attitude has since been matched with a great professional attitude and he is entering the final years of his career as the consummate team player.
Such was on display last night when he gutted out 48 pitches of thankless relief work:
He was better than anyone else who pitched for the Phillies last night, allowing two runs and even getting a 1-2-3 inning in his first frame of work. As he did so, I was cheering for the guy, at first with a bit of snark, because I can’t help myself, but then pretty genuinely as he pumped in high-80s heat with even a little bit of movement. He even covered first base on a grounder to that pulled Chase Utley off the bag and he did it like he’s been taking PFP his whole life.
But his appearance turned sour in his second inning of work. He was clearly gassed and was alternatively aiming pitches and overthrowing them in an effort to make it through. It wasn’t his fault, of course. It was more work than most relievers are asked to do and Ryne Sandberg had no business leaving him out there as long as he did. Such work is the sort of thing which can injure a pitcher, let alone an outfielder pretending to be one.
Maybe it wasn’t all Sandberg’s fault. At one point in the eighth inning he tried to call down to the bullpen to get someone else up, but the bullpen phone was off the hook, with the bullpen coach sitting by it, oblivious. That was a thing that actually happened.
Another thing that happened? Sandberg went out to the mound in the eighth, presumably, just to give Francoeur a breather. During the mound meeting, Chase Utley was visibly upset and appeared to offer some choice off-color language about the whole situation. Utley was not available for postgame comment, but everyone denied that there was conflict. One presumes that Utley being unavailable was better evidence that there was, in fact, conflict.
These are ugly times for the Phillies. Their players, some of them anyway, are trying and seem to care. Their front office and their coaching staff, however, have failed miserably and continue to do so. It’s a disgrace which should be costing someone their job. Yet, for whatever reason, has not done so.