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.

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

Andrew Knapp to make Phillies' roster -- remaining roster decisions are close

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The pathway for Andrew Knapp to make the Phillies' opening day roster as the backup catcher was cleared way back in November when he was added to the 40-man roster.

The job all but became Knapp's on Monday when the team released two veteran catchers who were not on the 40-man roster. When Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday were let go, Knapp became one of just two catchers in camp, the other being starter Cameron Rupp (see story).

So it's pretty obvious that the 25-year-old Knapp will open the season with the big club -- even though nothing will become official until rosters are filed with the commissioner's office this weekend.

"Obviously there are four or five days left," Knapp said. "I'm just going to keep trying to make good impressions and try to win a job. I'm keeping my head down, trying not to think about it too much."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round draft pick of Cal-Berkeley in 2013. He has never played in the majors.

"It would be a dream come true," he said. "Everyone hopes to get called up at some point but to make a team on opening day would be pretty special and it would be the best moment in my career so far."

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged that Knapp would probably make the club.

Mackanin would like to have the rest of his roster in order over the next day or two.

"As soon as possible," he said. "Because the last four or five games I'd like to play almost as if it were a season -- using the bullpen that way, using the bench in a certain way, seeing what it looks like, our bench guys, all our hitters. We just don't want to make a bad decision so we're just going to string it out as long as we can."

Roster questions must still be answered on the bench and in the bullpen.

How does the bench shape up? Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp are set. The Phils are expected to go with a five-man bench so that leaves two openings. There are four players vying for those spots: Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava, Brock Stassi and Jesmuel Valentin. Valentin has impressed, but at 22 years old would benefit from playing every day at Triple A.

Mackanin praised Stassi's work on Monday. If Stassi makes the club, the final spot would come down to Coghlan and Nava.

"Stassi has obviously made a great impression, mainly because, not necessarily because of his results, but the fact that he had a lot of quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "It looks like he can handle making adjustments to the different pitchers and different situations. He seemed to handle left-handers well. He made a good impression, as has Coughlan. Nava has also been consistent throughout the spring."

Stassi, Coghlan and Nava are all non-roster players so the Phils would have to clear 40-man roster space to add any of them.

Two spots remain open in the bullpen. Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia, Alec Asher and Cesar Ramos are the candidates. All but Ramos is on the 40-man roster.

How will this all shake out?

More answers are probably coming Tuesday.

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

Phillies release Hanigan, Holaday; Andrew Knapp likely backup catcher

A week before the season opener, it appears Andrew Knapp has won the Phillies' backup catcher competition.

The Phils on Monday released Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday, two veterans battling with Knapp for the backup spot to Cameron Rupp.

Knapp, 25, hasn't had an impressive spring, going 7 for 38 (.184) with 16 strikeouts, but the move makes sense because he's young and has at least a chance to contribute to the Phillies in the future, unlike Hanigan and Holaday. Plus, catcher Jorge Alfaro and first baseman Rhys Hoskins will likely open the season at Triple A, meaning Knapp would not have had an everyday spot with the IronPigs.

Knapp had his best game of the spring at the right time Sunday, hitting a two-run homer and throwing out two runners on the bases (see story).

"It's pretty obvious he seems to be the guy," manager Pete Mackanin said of Knapp. "Nothing's written in stone but if you read between the lines, it pretty much tells you something about it. No secret plans or anything like that. It is what it is right now."

At 25, Knapp isn't really a prospect anymore but rather a player the Phillies want to see sink or swim at the big-league level.

"He's not going to get 500 at-bats, but one of the things you can look at is any exposure to the big-league scene is valuable toward anyone's development," Mackanin said. "Let's say Knapp gets 200 at-bats, it's worth his while and our while to judge him, to give him a sense of confidence or knowing what he's up against.

"In that regard playing in the big leagues, even in a part-time role, is important."

Knapp was the Phillies' second-round pick in 2013 out of the University of California. He broke out in 2015 by hitting .360 with a 1.050 OPS and more than an RBI per game in 241 plate appearances with Double A Reading.

Last season, the switch-hitting Knapp was an International League All-Star with Triple A Lehigh Valley, though he didn't have as impressive an offensive season, batting .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs.

"He's got a chance to be a pretty good hitter," Mackanin said. "And he's come along quite a ways defensively behind the plate to where I'm comfortable with him catching.

"Little by little he's shown improvement in the spring, even though he hasn't had the greatest spring offensively. He's had a lot of good at-bats and he's caught well."

Andres Blanco, Aaron Altherr and Knapp look like locks for the Phillies' bench. The final two bench spots are open with Brock Stassi, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin in the running (see story).

CSN Philly's Jim Salisbury contributed to this report.