Asche looking to lock up Phils' third base job

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Asche looking to lock up Phils' third base job

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NEW YORK – The Phillies’ front office has a number of holes to fill this winter as it tries to get this club back to contender’s status.

Cody Asche’s play is beginning to scream: Hey, don’t worry about third base. I got it.

The 23-year-old former Nebraska Cornhusker continued his strong play in the field and at the plate Monday night. His two-run triple in the fourth inning was the difference-maker in a 2-1 win over the New York Mets at Citi Field (see Instant Replay).

Asche, a 2011 draft pick who has been in pro ball for just two years, debuted in the majors on July 30. He had just one hit in his first 17 at-bats. Since then, he is hitting .303 (20 for 66) with six doubles, a triple, two homers and 13 RBIs.

Hey, don’t worry about third base. I got it.

“I think that’s ultimately what I’d like,” Asche said after Monday night’s win. “But the season doesn’t end today. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played and I have a lot to prove. I just have to stay focused on what’s next and that’s tomorrow’s game.”

Asche isn’t the only one trying to win a prominent job for 2014. Interim manager Ryne Sandberg is trying to earn the full-time manager’s gig. At this point, he looks like a slam dunk as the Phillies have shaken themselves out of the funk that cost Charlie Manuel his job. The Phils have won seven of their last nine under Sandberg.

The conventional wisdom not long ago was that Asche would come to spring training with a shot to win the third base job.

He might end up winning it over the final five weeks of the season.

“Anything’s possible,” Sandberg said. “In a lot of ways, that’s what this month is for. He’s rising to the occasion.

“From what I’ve seen, he’s the full package down there at third base. I really like his range. He’s really come a long way (since spring training) with his glove work and his feet. And he has a true, accurate arm.”

Sandberg likes Asche’s left-handed stroke.

“He’s got a natural line-drive stroke,” Sandberg said. “He’s got a good chance to hit the ball every time because his bat stays in the zone long.”

On top of his physical tools, Asche has impressed with his intangibles. He did not get flustered when he was 1 for 17. Some young players would have.

“He doesn’t get too bothered about anything,” Sandberg said. “He shows fire. He gets mad, but in a positive way. Very mature. Gamer. Good work ethic. A lot of good characteristics.”

Asche’s triple helped make a winner out of Cliff Lee for the first time since July 5.

Lee likes what he’s seen of Asche so far.

“He’s getting more comfortable,” Lee said. “His skills are starting to show. His first week, he looked a little tense, which is kind of normal. He’s put that behind him and is now being a solid player. He plays the right way. I see him being here a while.”

Asche’s triple came on a 95-mph fastball from right-hander Zack Wheeler. He laced it to right-center.

Wheeler was tough. He allowed just five hits and two runs over 6 2/3 innings, walked one and struck out seven.

Lee was a little better. He held the Mets to five hits and one run over eight innings. He walked one and struck out seven. His biggest strikeout came on his final pitch -- No. 121 -- of the night when he struck out Juan Lagares on a full-count fastball with two runners on base.

Lagares gave the tiring Lee an assist when he swung at a 2-0 pitch that was up and out of the zone. It would have been ball three.

“That definitely helped me out there,” Lee said. “It should have been 3-0. Instead it was 2-1 and it helped me get out of that.”

There was no way Sandberg was going to the bullpen at that point.

“It was his game right there,” the manager said of Lee.

Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

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Dee Gordon honors Jose Fernandez with leadoff homer as Marlins beat Mets

MIAMI — In tribute to Jose Fernandez, left-handed hitter Dee Gordon stepped to the plate as a righty to lead off the first inning of Monday's mournful game.

After one pitch, Gordon switched to his customary left side — and homered in the first at-bat for Miami since the death of Fernandez in a boating accident.

Gordon pulled a 2-0 pitch from New York Mets right-hander Bartolo Colon over the wall in right for his first homer of the season. He tapped his chest after crossing the plate and waved toward the sky, and then sobbed as teammates hugged him in the dugout.

It was another heart-tugging moment in a succession of them over the past two days. The Marlins went on to a 7-3 victory.

The atmosphere was funereal at Marlins Park three hours before the first pitch, with players going through their pregame stretching in eerie silence.

Then someone cranked up the sound system, and bouncy reggaeton reverberated throughout the ballpark. It was a nudge toward a return to normal, as the Marlins and baseball began to move on without Fernandez.

The animal race at the end of the fifth inning was canceled, along with other in-game entertainment, and most of the Marlins' hitters decided to forgo walk-up music. But there was a game against the Mets, the first for the Marlins since their ace died early Sunday.

"This is shallow, but the show goes on," Marlins president David Samson said. "There has been a lot of talking and a lot of crying and a lot of praying and a lot of trying to make sense of something you can't make sense of. There is no sense to a life ended like that, in a way that is so meaningless.

"It's our job to make his life matter, so we're going to do that forever, and forever starts today."

Fernandez made his major league debut against the Mets in 2013 and was scheduled to face them again Monday night in his final start of the season. Instead, Miami and the Marlins mourned the loss of the 24-year-old pitcher, whose talent and captivating personality were a combination unmatched in the sport.

Fernandez and two other men were killed when his 32-foot SeaVee slammed into a rock jetty that extends off the southern tip of Miami Beach at about 3:15 a.m. Sunday, a medical examiner said.

Fernandez was originally scheduled to pitch Sunday before his start was moved back a day. The change may be the reason he decided to go on the late-night boat outing.

"If he had pitched yesterday, maybe fate would be different," Samson said. "I've been thinking about that a lot."

Manager Don Mattingly said, "Obviously it crosses your mind."

The Marlins' game Sunday against Atlanta was canceled, and when they took the field Monday for batting practice, Fernandez's name and number hovered over the field on the huge video screen. Gordon wore a T-shirt that said "RIP," with a photo of Fernandez shaped as the "I."

For the game, the players decided to wear Fernandez's No. 16, with hastily made uniforms flown in. His number was also stenciled on the back of the mound.

The pregame ceremony included a slow, solemn solo trumpet rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Following the national anthem, New York manager Terry Collins led his Mets across the field to share hugs with the Marlins, and fans briefly chanted "Jose, Jose."

The Marlins then clustered around the mound and put their hands to the dirt. Some scratched out Jose's number or a message of love, and some just rubbed the mound — his mound. His career record at Marlins Park was 29-2.

Fans established a makeshift memorial on the plaza outside the ballpark entrance, leaving dozens of flower arrangements — daisies, carnations, roses and lilies, the result as colorful as Fernandez's personality. There were also candles, and messages scrawled on balls, balloons, photos and jerseys.

The situation was emotional even for the Mets, who are in the thick of the chase for an NL wild card with one week left in the season. On their dugout wall hung a Mets jerseys with Fernandez's name and number.

"Hearts are heavy," New York outfielder Jay Bruce said. "From a professional standpoint, you just try to prepare and play the game and respect the game. But I can't even imagine what it's like over in that other clubhouse."

Collins spoke about Fernandez in the present tense.

"He epitomizes what the game's about," Collins said. "Our game is bigger than a lot of things. It will always go on. We'll remember Jose. You've got to play the game in his honor. He would want to be out there."

Plans for a public funeral had not been finalized, but it was expected to be Thursday, the Marlins' final off day of the season.

Fernandez defected from Cuba at age 15, won the NL Rookie of the Year award and became a two-time All-Star. His enormous popularity in South Florida bridged the divide between the franchise and fans antagonized by too much losing and too many payroll purges.

Fernandez left behind a girlfriend who is expecting their first child, the mother who came with him to the United States and the grandmother who helped raise him.

On Sunday evening, the entire team took two buses to Fernandez's family home and met for 45 minutes with his mother, grandmother and other relatives and friends.

Fernandez's agent, Scott Boras, spoke to reporters near the batting cage — or at least tried to. He said he paid his respects to the family before coming to the ballpark.

"His mother wanted me to tell everyone how she felt," Boras said. "She showed me pictures of him as a boy. She actually made his uniform when he was 7 or 8, with Cuban red pants."

Boras then cut short the interview because he couldn't stop crying.

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

Cuban ballplayers mourn loss of Jose Fernandez

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler played with Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez when the two were growing up in Cuba. They traveled together to Venezuela for a youth tournament.

Soler said Fernandez's ability was obvious, right from the start.

"Since he was a child, since we were kids, I knew he had something," Soler said through a translator. "He had a talent. It was very impressive."

Fernandez's death in a boating accident at the age of 24 cast a dark shadow over the major leagues on Sunday. Miami's home game against Atlanta was canceled, and several ballparks observed moments of silence. Wrigley Field's iconic hand-operated scoreboard displayed Fernandez's No. 16 in its pitching column next to Miami.

But the loss of Fernandez was felt most acutely in baseball's growing Cuban community.

"He was one of those guys that everybody loved," St. Louis Cardinals catcher Brayan Pena said. "He was one of those guys that everybody knew exactly what he meant to our community. For us, it's a big, big loss. It's one of those things where our thoughts and prayers are obviously with his family, the Marlins' organization and the fans. But it gets a little bit closer because he was part of our Cuban family."

There were 23 Cubans on opening-day major league rosters this year, an increase of five over last season and the most since the commissioner's office began releasing data in 1995. Many of the players share similar stories when it comes to their perilous journey from the communist country to the majors, and the difficulty of adjusting to life in the United States.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, Fernandez and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Florida with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

He was drafted by the Marlins in 2011, and quickly turned into one of the majors' top pitchers.

"How he was on the mound was a reflection of him," Oakland first baseman Yonder Alonso said. "A guy who had a lot of fun, was himself. A very talkative guy, he would come into the room and you'd know he was in the room. Never big-leagued anyone, very professional. No matter what, he would talk to you about hitting, because he thought he was the best hitter, and he (would) talk to you about pitching, because he thought he was the best pitcher."

Alonso said Fernandez's death was "a big-time shock." Yasiel Puig used torn pieces of white athletic tape to display Fernandez's jersey on the wall in the home dugout at Dodger Stadium. Cardinals rookie Aledmys Diaz, who had known Fernandez since they were little kids, declined an interview request through a team spokeswoman.

"We Cuban players know each other well and all of us have a great relationship," Pena said. "For us, it's devastating news when we woke up. We were sending text messages to each other and we were showing support. It's something that obviously nobody expects."

Fernandez, who became a U.S. citizen last year, also was beloved for his stature in the Cuban community in Miami.

"He was a great humanitarian," Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman said through a translator. "He gave a lot to the community and I think that's why he got a lot of respect from the community in terms of what a great person he was and always giving, in terms of always willing to help out in whatever way he can to try to better and progress within the community someone that perhaps wasn't as fortunate as he was."

The 28-year-old Chapman lives in the Miami-area in the offseason. He said he spent some time with Fernandez while he was home.

"He would come by my house. I would go by his," Chapman said. "We would have long conversations. We would talk a lot. We spent a lot of good amount of time together. It was very special for me."