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.

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

Drew Anderson has emerged as one of the Phillies' top pitching prospects

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Drew Anderson remembers his telephone ringing in November. He remembers hearing Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan congratulate him and tell him that he'd been placed on the team's 40-man roster.

Anderson was elated.

"It was awesome," the right-handed pitcher said the other day.

So awesome that Anderson celebrated in an unusual way.

"I busted out 50 pushups," he said. "I had so much adrenaline."

The internal discussions that teams have when considering which players to protect on the 40-man roster and which ones to risk losing in the Rule 5 draft are often long and detailed and decisions are not always reached easily.

But in Anderson's case ...

"It was not a long conversation," Jordan said. "The feeling was, 'Put him on the roster. Don't lose him. Let's talk about the next guy.'"

"Across the board," minor-league pitching coordinator Rafael Chaves said. "And that's not common for a kid that pitched in A-ball."

Anderson, who turns 23 on March 22, will get his first taste of Double A ball in April.

Clearly, the Phillies are high on him.

But how high?

"We've got scouts who will tell you that he might be our best pitching prospect," Jordan said.

Given some of the power arms that the Phils have collected in the low minors, that's quite a statement.

If it seems as if Anderson has flown below the radar since being drafted by the Phillies in 2012 it's because, well, he's done just that.

For a while.

He received little interest from four-year colleges coming out of Galena High School in Reno, Nevada, and was headed to Mesa Community College in Arizona before the Phillies selected him in the 21st round that year.

"My name never really got out there," he said. "Really only the Phillies looked at me. (Area scout) Joey Davis saw me and he said he liked that I had a fluid arm and he liked the way the ball jumped out of my hand. He saw me as a sleeper pick. I just wanted to play ball so I said, 'Yeah, I'll give it a shot.'"

Jordan recalled seeing Anderson pitch at Single A Lakewood early in the 2014 season. Anderson had added strength to his 6-foot-3 frame and his fastball velocity had jumped from 90-92 mph to 93-95 mph.

"It was just a matter of physical maturity, his body getting stronger, and we were really excited," Jordan said.

Anderson did not make it through that season, however. He came down with an elbow injury and the following spring became a statistic — a pitcher who needed Tommy John surgery.

Anderson missed the 2015 season. He came back in May of last year and made 15 starts between Lakewood and Clearwater. At Clearwater, the Phillies' advanced Single A stop, Anderson posted a 1.93 ERA in 32 2/3 innings. He struck out 37 and walked 10.

The rehabilitation process after Tommy John surgery focuses on more than just the elbow. Special attention is paid to the shoulder and the legs. Working under Joe Rauch, the Phillies' minor-league rehab specialist, Anderson gained much strength in those areas and it showed in his fastball velocity last summer.

He got it up to 97 mph.

He also has a good breaking ball and an improving changeup to go with a classic pitcher's body. He has long arms and weighs 205 pounds.

"We just felt some team out there would have taken him even if they had to stash him in the bullpen," said Jordan, expounding on the Phils' decision to add Anderson to the 40-man roster in November. "He's too big an asset."

Anderson is excited about making the jump to Reading this season. He's never pitched more than 76 innings as a pro and now that he's healthy needs to start racking up mound time and experience.

Anderson mentioned how hard he worked this offseason to get ready for his first trip to big-league camp and what lies beyond when he heads to Double A.

The hard work started with those 50 pushups that he busted out upon learning that he'd been placed on the 40-man roster.

"After hearing that, it was time to kick it in gear," he said. "I was like, 'Let's do this.'

"I've had some ups and downs, but I feel like I'm on track now."

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

Phillies Notes: Hector Neris looks to become three-pitch guy in 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Hector Neris racked up 102 strikeouts, the second-most ever by a Phillies reliever, during his breakout 2016 season.

The right-hander did it basically with a two-pitch mix — a power fastball and a darting splitter that manager Pete Mackanin likes to call “an invisible pitch.”

After last season, Neris reflected on his success, which included a 2.58 ERA over 80⅓ innings, the third-most among NL relievers.

Neris determined that he would need to diversify his pitch repertoire if he’s going to continue to have success.

So during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic, he dusted off his seldom-used slider and threw it more. He’s polishing it up in this camp and plans to use it in the upcoming World Baseball Classic and during the regular season.

“I think it’s something that can make me better,” Neris said. “I’ve never had the confidence in it that I had in my other pitches, but I’m working hard on it. It will give me a third option for the hitter to think about.”

Neris threw a slider 2.9 percent of the time in 2016, according to MLB Statcast. He threw more than 49 percent splitters and 46 percent fastballs.

“In the big leagues you have to respect the hitter,” Neris said. “The hitters know me now and they know I throw fastballs and splitters. I need to have that third pitch for them to respect. When I throw it, I want them to say, ‘What is that?’”

Neris’ splitter darts down and in to a right-hander hitter. The slider will break the other way.

Neris has talked about different grips on the pitch with guest spring-training instructor Larry Andersen, who threw a million sliders in his career.

“He threw some nasty ones today,” Andersen said after Tuesday’s workout. “The pitch will help him.”

McLaren to WBC
Bullpen coach John McLaren will leave camp on Wednesday and travel to Japan as Team China assembles for the World Baseball Classic. McLaren will manage that club. He also skippered the club in 2013.

Asked if he spoke more than seven words of Chinese, McLaren quipped, “That would be pushing it. I’m still trying to conquer English.”

Team China will provide a translator for McLaren, though there is a universal element to baseball communication.

“This is my third time going to the WBC,” McLaren said. “I love it.”

Almost game time
The Phillies will play their annual exhibition game against the University of Tampa on Thursday. The Phils are expected to play many of the young players that will make up their Triple A Lehigh Valley roster. Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr., who pitched at Double A Reading last season, will come over from minor-league camp to make the start. Pitching coach Bob McClure said he expected to get several projected big-league relievers work in the game.

Alec Asher will start the Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees on Friday in Tampa and Adam Morgan will start Saturday’s games against the Yankees in Clearwater.