When Maikel Franco pulled off an acrobatic, leaping throw from third base to nab a runner at first on Sunday afternoon at Oracle Park, the defensive play wasn’t a fluke. He had worked toward moments like that during the offseason, but not just in the form of on-field drills.
Franco committed to a lifestyle-changing diet in October, lost 26 pounds and came into camp with the Nationals feeling the best he has in years.
“I know I’ve got a new opportunity here,” Franco, 29, said. “I had to not take anything for granted. Come in and grind and do whatever I can do to get better.”
After hitting just .210 with the Orioles in 2021, Franco wanted to make a change ahead of his ninth Major League season. Rice, soda and fast food were traded for fruit, vegetables, fish and grilled chicken. He also did not eat after 7:30 p.m. during the offseason. While challenging at first, he eventually began to crave his new palate.
“I feel great about it,” he said. “The way that I look, the way that I play is different. I feel like I always have more energy. It’s been great so far.”
Franco signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals in December, and he arrived at camp rejuvenated and prepared to compete for a roster spot. Franco earned the everyday third base role, where he has made 25 starts this season.
“It’s amazing for me, because at the end of the day that’s what I’m looking for,” Franco said. “I’m trying to be more athletic, trying to be more flexible so I can move better side-to-side. That’s a great thing for me.”
Six months after embarking on a disciplined diet overhaul, Franco is seeing the results of his dedication. He also has improved at the plate, recording six multi-hit games (including a season-high-tying four hits on Friday in San Francisco), and improved his batting average to .274.
“It’s hard to do, trust me,” Franco said. “The first couple of weeks, I was just like, ‘I can’t do that. No, I’m not going to do that.’ But you know, I got used to it because sometimes I’m like, ‘I want to be great, I want to be better.’ And that’s how it starts.
“If you want to be better, it takes sacrifice most of the time. And that’s what I’m saying — I want to be better, I want to be great, and that’s what I had to do.”