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.

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

You gave us the 'Good One,' Chooch, thanks for the memories

The Phillies were one strike away from winning the World Series and Citizens Bank Park was in a full roar.

Carlos Ruiz trotted to the mound for a quick chat with closer Brad Lidge.

Lidge wanted to try to put away Tampa Bay’s Eric Hinkse with his signature slider, a pitch that had helped him go 48 for 48 in save chances during that magical season. Ruiz was in complete agreement. After catching the pitcher all season, he knew how good Lidge’s slider was. He also knew that Lidge threw three versions of the pitch, a get-me-over offering that he used to get a first-pitch strike, a backdoor bender that he used against lefty hitters, and The Good One, a sharp, downward-breaking dagger that left hitters flailing at air as it cork-screwed toward the dirt.

On that spectacular October night nearly eight years ago, Ruiz looked into Lidge’s eyes and issued a directive: Give me the good one. Lidge complied. Hinske swung over the vicious slider. Ruiz fished it out of the dirt and Harry Kalas shouted, “The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball” as the stadium erupted in euphoria. Ruiz, the kid who wasn’t even a catcher when the Phillies first scouted him in the summer of 1998, sprinted to the mound, collapsed to his knees and joined Lidge in a joyous hug, the image of which will remain emblazoned in the minds of Philadelphia fans, well, forever.

Ruiz’s words to Lidge — Give me the good one — gained new resonance on Thursday because the veteran catcher, beloved by teammates and fans, was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers for catcher A.J. Ellis, minor-league pitcher Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later (see story).

Ruiz spent 11 seasons with the Phillies and when you consider where he came from and what he accomplished, well, he always gave the team and its fans the good one.

“I’m excited, but also sad,” Ruiz said moments after the trade became official.

Excited because at age 37, and firmly in the twilight of his career, he has the chance to join a first-place team and get to the postseason one more time.

And sad because, “I have so many memories in Philadelphia.”

The greatest, of course, was the World Series championship, catching the final out and rushing to the mound to join Lidge as the pitcher dropped to his knees, looked to the heavens and shouted, “Oh, my God, we just won the World Series!”

But there were so many others.

Ruiz was a backbone member of five NL East championship teams and the best catcher a Cy Young winner named Roy Halladay ever pitched to. Halladay said it himself. Ruiz caught four no-hitters, including two of Halladay’s. He was an All-Star in 2012.

All in all, it was a pretty good run for a guy who signed for $8,000 off a sandlot in Panama in 1998. That same year, the Phillies signed Pat Burrell for $8 million. Ruiz would have signed for nothing.

“All I wanted was a chance to play professional baseball,” he said. "I'm thankful the Phillies gave it to me."

At the time of his audition for the Phillies, Ruiz was a 19-year-old second baseman. Phillies scouts were skeptical of his ability to make it as an infielder. They warmed to him when he said he’d give catching a try. He learned the position on the fly and made a steady progression up the ladder until arriving in the majors in 2006 and becoming a regular in 2007, the year the Phillies broke a 14-year playoff drought and won the NL East.

Ruiz was a favorite in the clubhouse for his good nature and team-first attitude. He would do anything for the team, anything to win, and you can’t fake that stuff. That won him the admiration of teammates. In 2012, Jonathan Papelbon expressed his love for Ruiz in typical Papelbon style. He called Ruiz “a Panamanian redneck.” Years later, Cameron Rupp, the man who supplanted Ruiz as starting catcher, praised Ruiz for his mentorship. It’s not easy for a player to groom the man who will take his job, but Ruiz did it earnestly and graciously. Today, Rupp is arguably the most improved player on the Phillies’ roster.

“Carlos was the everyday guy for more than eight years,” Rupp said. “I’m sure it was hard. It can’t be easy. But he never stopped helping me. There might be guys who wouldn’t do something like that, but not him.

“I can’t tell you how much he helped me. He’s awesome.”

Ruiz’s hustle, his non-stop effort, and, oh, yes, his place on championship teams — that’s what Philadelphians love most — earned him a special spot in the hearts of fans. Cup your hand to your ear and you can still hear those fond shouts of Choooooch from the stands.

They will be heard again when Ruiz goes on the team’s Wall of Fame someday. But for now, he heads off to Los Angeles to join another former Phillies fan favorite and champion, Chase Utley, in a late-career run at one more moment of postseason glory.

You gave us the Good One, Chooch.

Phillies trade Carlos Ruiz to Dodgers

Phillies trade Carlos Ruiz to Dodgers

Jimmy Rollins. Then Chase Utley. Now Carlos Ruiz.

Thursday closed another chapter of the Phillies' golden era.

Ruiz, the Phillies' catcher since 2006 and arguably the most impactful in franchise history, has been traded to the Dodgers (along with cash) for catcher A.J. Ellis, right-hander Tommy Bergjans and a player to be named later.

Rollins was dealt to the Dodgers in December 2014. Utley, still with Los Angeles, was traded to the Dodgers in August 2015.

Ryan Howard is now the lone leftover from the Phillies' 2008 world champion club.

In 11 big-league seasons — all with the Phillies — Ruiz has hit .266 with a .352 on-base percentage and has been lauded for his game-calling abilities. This season, the 37-year-old is batting .261 with a .368 OBP, three home runs and 12 RBIs in a reserve role. Ruiz joined the Phillies' organization in 1998 when the team signed him as an amateur free agent. In 2016, he was playing out his final season in red pinstripes, the final year of a three-year, $26 million deal.

"I met Chooch in 2009 for the first time and immediately sensed that he was a special player," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "But more importantly, over the years I grew to know that he is a special person. I'll miss him."

Ruiz has caught the fourth-most games in Phillies history with 1,029, behind only Mike Lieberthal (1,139), Red Dooin (1,124) and Bob Boone (1,094).

"Carlos not only was — and is — a good teammate, he [also] learned how to become the leader he needed to be behind the plate running a pitching staff," former Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer said. "As a teammate, he always had that Ruiz smile that we all have come to love!"

Ruiz caught Cole Hamels' no-hitter in July of last season, marking the catcher's fourth no-no behind the plate, tying him for most in MLB history with Jason Varitek.

"He’s a tremendous catcher and it just shows," Hamels said after no-hitting the Cubs at Wrigley Field on July 25. "If he wasn’t, he wouldn’t be catching this many no-hitter, perfect games. All of us have been fortunate enough to have him."

The Panama native, beloved and known by the Delaware Valley as "Chooch," quickly became a fan favorite. He was the staple behind home plate of the team's five-year run from 2007-11, in which it won five National League East titles, two NL pennants and, of course, the World Series championship in 2008.

"They are my favorite fans in the world," Ruiz said in February, "and we have some good memories together."

And many of them.

He became Roy Halladay's all-time favorite battery mate, catching the right-hander's perfect game and postseason no-hitter in 2010.

He played a career-high 132 games in 2011, while handling the Phillies' vaunted rotation en route to a franchise-record 102 wins.

He put together an All-Star season in 2012, hitting .325 with a .394 OBP, 16 homers and 68 RBIs.

The most cherished, though, came on the chilly night of October 29, 2008 — being under the dogpile on the Citizens Bank Park infield after catching Brad Lidge's World Series-winning strikeout.

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MLB Notes: Miami Marlins acquire Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta Braves

MIAMI -- A person familiar with the deal says the Miami Marlins have acquired outfielder Jeff Francoeur from Atlanta in a three-team trade.

The person spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity Wednesday night because the trade hadn't been announced.

The Texas Rangers also were part of the trade. Francoeur was the only major leaguer involved.

Miami is contending for an NL wild-card spot and isn't sure whether star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton will return this season from a severe groin strain.

Francoeur was hitting .249 with seven home runs and 33 RBIs in 99 games for the Braves. The 32-year-old plays left field and right field and is known for a strong arm.

Nationals acquire lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski from Athletics
WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals have acquired left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski from the Oakland Athletics for minor league infielder Max Schrock.

The A's also sent cash to Washington as part of the trade announced Thursday.

Rzepczynski gives the Nationals another lefty out of the bullpen since trading Felipe Rivero and putting Sammy Solis on the disabled list. He is 1-0 with a 3.00 ERA in 56 appearances this season for Oakland.

The 32-year-old joins the sixth team of his major league career. It was not clear if he'd be available for Washington's game Thursday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The 21-year-old Schrock was a 13th-round pick in 2015.

Red Sox place rookie Benintendi on 15-day DL with knee sprain
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  -- The Boston Red Sox have placed rookie left fielder Andrew Benintendi on the 15-day disabled list with a left knee sprain.

Benintendi was hurt in the seventh inning of a 4-3 loss in 11 innings to Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. He tried to avoid a tag while running toward second base, but was tagged out on a double play.

Red Sox manager John Farrell says team doctors are evaluating the results of an MRI exam on Thursday. He says the severity of the injury isn't clear and will be "determined after the review."

Farrell is hopeful Benintendi, a first-round draft pick in 2015, will return before the season ends.

Chris Young will be the primary left fielder with Benintendi sidelined. Infielder Marco Hernandez was recalled from Triple-A Pawtucket.