Cody Asche, who is riding an eight-game hitting streak, was not in the Phillies' starting lineup on Tuesday. (AP)
NEW YORK -- Since starting off his big league career by going 1 for 17, Cody Asche has settled in. Asche is riding an eight-game hitting streak and is batting .303 (20 for 66) with two homers and 13 RBIs in his last 19 games.
Better yet, Asche has three hits in his last three chances with runners in scoring position, which includes a two-run triple on Monday night to push the Phillies to a 2-1 victory over the Mets.
So why was Asche out of the lineup on Tuesday night?
Quite simply, with lefty pitcher Jonathon Niese on the mound for the Mets, manager Ryne Sandberg gave the lefty-hitting Asche the night off. Though he is 3 for 10 off lefties in the big leagues and a respectable .261 (30 for 115) with two homers off lefties in Triple A, Asche will be back in the lineup on Wednesday night against Daisuke Matsuzaka.
In the meantime, Asche is going through one of those baseball rites of passage. Chase Utley had to sit against tough lefties and so did Ryan Howard. Even Dom Brown got nights off when a lefty was on the mound.
“There’s something to that,” Sandberg said. “There’s different types of left-handed pitching, also. I think the last time he sat was against [Dodgers’ ace Clayton] Kershaw, so that’s tough duty for a young guy. But who knows? If he wouldn’t have got two hits off him, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But yeah, just same type of a thing. Picking spots here or there. Keep him on the path that he’s going now, keep him on the streak that he’s on. And also give a chance to somebody else to get at-bats.”
With Asche on the bench, Michael Young slid back over to third base and Kevin Frandsen got the start at first base. For as hot as Asche has been at the plate, Frandsen has gone the other way, batting just .125 in August (6 for 48) and .130 during the second half with just nine singles.
Call it tough luck for Frandsen, who has whiffed just five times in August.
“He’s still been putting the ball in play but he’s had a little bit of tough luck there,” Sandberg said. “He’s working on some things mechanically that escaped him over the All-Star break, pretty much. He was going real well up to the All-Star break. He’s one of the better pinch hitters in the league. But since the break he’s just a little heavy on the front side [and a] little excited going to get the ball. [It’s not a] surprise that he gets excited, but that’s something he fights against, staying back and letting the ball come to you. But still a guy that puts the bat on the ball against just about any pitcher that he faces.”
Domonic Brown is out of the lineup for a third straight game on Tuesday, but it’s not because of the lefty pitching for the Mets. Instead, Brown’s right Achilles tendon has been giving him problems.
Rather than push it, Sandberg is going to wait until Brown is pain free.
“He’s still testing it to see where he is. It’s still the same -- day-to-day,” Sandberg said. “He still feels it, so no sense in pushing it or anything. But yeah, he’s just testing it every day to see where it’s at. Still seems to be getting better each day, but it’s not like the quick turnaround.”
Lefty on lefty
Meanwhile, with Asche and Brown on the bench against the lefty Niese, Sandberg put left-handed hitter Roger Bernadina in the leadoff spot.
Why? Because Sandberg wants to give Bernadina a good look and that includes some time against lefties.
“I want to see Bernadina off a lefty. I really like his approach, he battles throughout the whole at-bat and lays off some pitches,” Sandberg said. “A lot of his at-bats are long counts. I see him battling tonight off a lefty. With a lot of contact, consistent contact, he has multiple ways he can get on base. He also has a gap swing, has some power in his swing. I also like the way he chokes up. He seems to handle the bat a little bit. Sometimes he thinks too big with his legs, with his stride. That’s something we’re working on.”
12 for 12
In his first dozen games as manager of the Phillies, Sandberg has used a different lineup each time out. Sure, the Phillies have had issues with injuries and are trying to look into the future a bit with some young players, but that’s not the entire reason why Sandberg has juggled the lineup so much.
Sandberg says even if everyone was healthy and the Phillies weren’t looking ahead, he would still use different combinations with his lineups frequently.
The lineup is like a big jigsaw puzzle for Sandberg.
“I go day-to-day, whatever makes sense to try to win a baseball game,” he said. “I check out my personnel every day, see if there’s anyone I think can help win us a game, get some at-bats.
“I enjoy it. It’s fun for me. It’s a little bit of a challenge, but fun. I picture the game a little bit [and] think of different scenarios with guys in spots that could come up in a game. Get some hit-and-run guys together, some RBI guys. I play out the game a little in my mind and picture the lineup going through the game.”