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Washington Nationals’ Maikel Franco quietly putting together solid season...

Maikel Franco wasn’t supposed to be the Nationals’ third baseman...

Houston Astros v Washington Nationals Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Considering Carter Kieboom was expected to start at third this season, before he went on the IL with a flexor mass strain in his right arm, the minor league deal the Nationals signed Maikel Franco to last winter seemed like insurance in case the 24-year-old, 2016 1st Round pick struggled once again.

With Kieboom injured, Franco took the Opening Day job at third base, and though he’s had his struggles in the majors in his nine-year career, the 29-year-old infielder has shown signs of life at the plate, going 22 for 78 (.282/.305/.449) with seven doubles, two home runs, 12 RBIs, three walks, and nine runs scored in his last 20 games, with hits in 12 of the 20 in that stretch, after a 2 for 5 night in which he hit a homer and collected three RBIs in Saturday’s 13-6 win over the Houston Astros.

On the year, Franco finished the night on Saturday with a .273/.300/.417 line, 10 doubles, and three home runs in 140 plate appearances, over which he’d walked six times, with 27 strikeouts.

“He’s been great, he really has,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said when asked about Franco making the most of his opportunity early this season. “He’s worked really hard. Him and Six [Asst. Hitting Coach Pat Roessler, who wears No. 66] have built a really good relationship. They work hard in the batting cages, he’s got a really good routine going on right now, but all in all and not just his hitting, but even his defense now, I know he had some hiccups, but he’s playing really good defense for us as well. He’s engaged every day, he’s having fun, and I know he’s talked to me and he says that he loves it here, and he appreciates the opportunity that he’s getting and he’s going to do everything he can to help us win, and he’s done that.”

The success for Franco early this season, Martinez suggested, is the result of a lot of hard work, and positive reinforcement from the organization after they added him to the mix.

“I think, honestly, I think [the difference] for him is that we’re showing him a lot of love, we really are,” he said. “We felt like he had the potential to bounce back and be the guy that he once was, and he’s not an old guy neither,” the manager continued. “He’s fairly — for me, still — like I tell him, ‘You’re still in your prime, you know, you haven’t really hit your — ‘ but we taught him some things that we felt like could help him and he’s taken advantage of it, and he’s preparing himself and he’s going out there and putting some good at-bats together.”

What sort of things did they teach him, a reporter asked in a follow-up?

“Getting the ball up,” Martinez said.

“He’s high ball hitter. Dead high ball hitter. So that’s something we always tell him. Don’t chase, get the ball in the zone, and get your A-swing off, every time you swing. He’s done that. He’s had a reputation of hitting a lot of ground balls, and we’ve seen that, but at the end of the day, when I see him, I say here is where the ground balls come from, and the balls are down, so I said you’ve got to get the ball up early in counts.

“With two strikes, you have to swing the bat, but early in the count, in hitters’ counts, just get the ball up.”