Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose

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Asche shines, but Phils find 'shifty' way to lose

BOX SCORE

The Phillies trudged out the door of Citizens Bank Park late Tuesday night for a flight to Toronto, where they will continue a home-and-home series with the Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

Good thing it’s a short flight to Toronto because this couldn’t have been a fun one. They seldom are when a team digs itself a five-run hole, battles back to tie the game, then loses it in extra innings.

That’s what happened in this one. Cole Hamels struggled for the second game in a row. (He has allowed 18 hits and 11 runs in 10 2/3 innings in those games -- see story.) Cody Asche bailed Hamels out with a game-tying grand slam in the sixth inning. But the Phils eventually lost to the Blue Jays, 6-5, when Antonio Bastardo allowed a couple of hits and Juan Francisco lifted a sacrifice fly to weak-armed centerfielder Ben Revere in the 10th (see Instant Replay).

The Phillies have lost two in a row to the Blue Jays to fall to 15-16 on the season.

A couple of things to keep an eye on Wednesday night at Rogers Centre in Toronto:

• Will manager Ryne Sandberg reward Asche for his grand slam and four-hit night with a start against lefty Mark Buehrle? Asche, who has struggled much of the early season, has not started against a lefty since April 4.

• Will Sandberg continue to employ a defensive shift in the infield when it cost the Phils a couple of runs Tuesday night?

Early indications are that Asche will get the start.

“I look at this as a possible breakout game for Cody,” Sandberg said. “I’ll give [starting him against Buehrle] a lot of consideration. We could give him some continued play and let him build on this.”

As for the shift, the Phils have had mixed results while using it against the Jays. The Phils lost, 3-0, to Toronto on Monday night. The score would have been more lopsided if the Phils hadn’t employed the shift in their infield. Losing pitcher Kyle Kendrick said as much.

But Tuesday night, the shift led to some miscommunication between shortstop Freddy Galvis and second baseman Chase Utley in the fourth inning. No one “took charge,” in Sandberg’s words, on a ball hit between the two fielders and Edwin Encarnacion ended up with a hit that sent a runner to third and set up a run.

In the decisive 10th inning, the Jays got a leadoff hit from Melky Cabrera. That brought up dangerous Jose Bautista. The Phillies shifted him to the left side of the infield in both games. This time, Bautista made an adjustment and singled through the area vacated by Utley, who was playing just on the other side of second. If Utley is in his usual position, it is a double-play ball. Then again, if Utley is in his usual position, Bautista probably doesn’t hit it there. He probably takes his normal big hack to the pull side.

Whatever the case, you live by the shift; you die by the shift.

“We had Bautista as a dead-pull hitter on the ground and he hit one away from the defense,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies were fortunate to even be in the game so late.

They made defensive miscues and baserunning gaffes -- the struggling Galvis was involved in both -- and failed to move runners or do much of anything offensively against Drew Hutchison in the early innings.

“We did not play a good fundamental game,” Sandberg said. “We made baserunning mistakes, didn’t get a man over from second, coverage on defense. A lot of little things came back to haunt us.”

Sandberg didn’t mention the fact that Revere had no shot to throw out Cabrera at the plate on a fly ball to medium center in the 10th.

He did mention that Hamels, who gave up 10 hits, including two home runs, was not sharp.

“He fell behind in some counts and they didn’t miss his fastball,” Sandberg said.

The Phillies' offense went 21 innings (back to Sunday) before finally scoring in the sixth. Ryan Howard’s RBI hit was the first of five in the inning against Hutchison, who was otherwise nasty on the Phillies.

Asche’s game-tying grand slam was the big blow against Hutchison. It came with two outs and brought to life the crowd of 26,057, which demanded (and received) a curtain call from Asche.

The first month-plus of the season has been difficult on Asche, who entered Tuesday night hitting .214. His four hits raised his average to .257.

“It felt good to produce and help the team out,” Asche said. “There have been a lot of games where I haven’t done that.

“But this is still a loss, a missed opportunity.”

The 23-year-old third baseman was asked whether he believed his big night would earn him a shot in Wednesday night’s lineup.

“If I’m in there, I’m in there,” he said. “If I’m not, I’ll be on the bench, ready to go.

“There’s a lot of mental turmoil in this game over the course of a long season. The good ones weather the storms. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

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.