Phillies Notes: Asche gets night off vs. lefty

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Phillies Notes: Asche gets night off vs. lefty

NEW YORK -- Since starting off his big league career by going 1 for 17, Cody Asche has settled in. Asche is riding an eight-game hitting streak and is batting .303 (20 for 66) with two homers and 13 RBIs in his last 19 games.

Better yet, Asche has three hits in his last three chances with runners in scoring position, which includes a two-run triple on Monday night to push the Phillies to a 2-1 victory over the Mets.

So why was Asche out of the lineup on Tuesday night?

Quite simply, with lefty pitcher Jonathon Niese on the mound for the Mets, manager Ryne Sandberg gave the lefty-hitting Asche the night off. Though he is 3 for 10 off lefties in the big leagues and a respectable .261 (30 for 115) with two homers off lefties in Triple A, Asche will be back in the lineup on Wednesday night against Daisuke Matsuzaka.

In the meantime, Asche is going through one of those baseball rites of passage. Chase Utley had to sit against tough lefties and so did Ryan Howard. Even Dom Brown got nights off when a lefty was on the mound.

“There’s something to that,” Sandberg said. “There’s different types of left-handed pitching, also. I think the last time he sat was against [Dodgers’ ace Clayton] Kershaw, so that’s tough duty for a young guy. But who knows? If he wouldn’t have got two hits off him, I wouldn’t have been shocked. But yeah, just same type of a thing. Picking spots here or there. Keep him on the path that he’s going now, keep him on the streak that he’s on. And also give a chance to somebody else to get at-bats.”

With Asche on the bench, Michael Young slid back over to third base and Kevin Frandsen got the start at first base. For as hot as Asche has been at the plate, Frandsen has gone the other way, batting just .125 in August (6 for 48) and .130 during the second half with just nine singles.

Call it tough luck for Frandsen, who has whiffed just five times in August.

“He’s still been putting the ball in play but he’s had a little bit of tough luck there,” Sandberg said. “He’s working on some things mechanically that escaped him over the All-Star break, pretty much. He was going real well up to the All-Star break. He’s one of the better pinch hitters in the league. But since the break he’s just a little heavy on the front side [and a] little excited going to get the ball. [It’s not a] surprise that he gets excited, but that’s something he fights against, staying back and letting the ball come to you. But still a guy that puts the bat on the ball against just about any pitcher that he faces.”

Brown out
Domonic Brown is out of the lineup for a third straight game on Tuesday, but it’s not because of the lefty pitching for the Mets. Instead, Brown’s right Achilles tendon has been giving him problems.

Rather than push it, Sandberg is going to wait until Brown is pain free.

“He’s still testing it to see where he is. It’s still the same -- day-to-day,” Sandberg said. “He still feels it, so no sense in pushing it or anything. But yeah, he’s just testing it every day to see where it’s at. Still seems to be getting better each day, but it’s not like the quick turnaround.”

Lefty on lefty
Meanwhile, with Asche and Brown on the bench against the lefty Niese, Sandberg put left-handed hitter Roger Bernadina in the leadoff spot.

Why? Because Sandberg wants to give Bernadina a good look and that includes some time against lefties.

“I want to see Bernadina off a lefty. I really like his approach, he battles throughout the whole at-bat and lays off some pitches,” Sandberg said. “A lot of his at-bats are long counts. I see him battling tonight off a lefty. With a lot of contact, consistent contact, he has multiple ways he can get on base. He also has a gap swing, has some power in his swing. I also like the way he chokes up. He seems to handle the bat a little bit. Sometimes he thinks too big with his legs, with his stride. That’s something we’re working on.”

12 for 12
In his first dozen games as manager of the Phillies, Sandberg has used a different lineup each time out. Sure, the Phillies have had issues with injuries and are trying to look into the future a bit with some young players, but that’s not the entire reason why Sandberg has juggled the lineup so much.

Sandberg says even if everyone was healthy and the Phillies weren’t looking ahead, he would still use different combinations with his lineups frequently.

The lineup is like a big jigsaw puzzle for Sandberg.

“I go day-to-day, whatever makes sense to try to win a baseball game,” he said. “I check out my personnel every day, see if there’s anyone I think can help win us a game, get some at-bats.

“I enjoy it. It’s fun for me. It’s a little bit of a challenge, but fun. I picture the game a little bit [and] think of different scenarios with guys in spots that could come up in a game. Get some hit-and-run guys together, some RBI guys. I play out the game a little in my mind and picture the lineup going through the game.”

Relievers come and go as Phillies look to make final calls on 40-man roster

Relievers come and go as Phillies look to make final calls on 40-man roster

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies said goodbye to one lefty reliever on Sunday and hello to another.

Veteran Sean Burnett asked for and was granted his unconditional release from his minor-league contract.

Meanwhile, Hoby Milner returned to the organization after spending the spring in big-league camp with the Cleveland Indians. Milner was selected by the Indians in the Rule 5 draft in December but was unable to win a spot in that club's bullpen. Players selected in the Rule 5 draft must spend the entire season in the big leagues or be offered back to their original club for $50,000, half the selecting cost.

The Indians won the American League pennant last season and have a strong lefty presence in their bullpen with Andrew Miller and Boone Logan. So Milner was a long shot to make the club.

"It was my first big-league camp and it was a great experience," Milner said. "It's been a bit of a whirlwind. I feel like it's almost a 50-50 shot at coming back when you're a Rule 5 guy. They're trying to get back to the World Series and they're trying to go with a sure thing more so than a Rule 5 guy and I understand that. I knew I would have had to really impress if I wanted to be a third lefty and it just didn't work out. It's OK. It's just how it is. It's a business.

"But it was a great experience. Their bullpen is full of veterans. I got to pick those guys' brains and see how they go about their business and that was good."

Milner pitched seven innings for the Tribe in Cactus League play. He gave up nine hits and seven runs. He struck out nine and walked three.

Milner, 26, was selected by the Phillies in the seventh round of the 2012 draft out of the University of Texas. He had a breakthrough season in 2016 after switching to a sidearm delivery at the suggestion of Rafael Chaves, the Phillies' minor-league pitching coordinator. Milner pitched in 49 games at Double A and Triple A and recorded a 2.49 ERA in 65 innings. He gave up 57 hits, struck out 76 and walked 15.

Milner is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster, but the team brought him to big-league camp for a quick look before opening day. He will start the season in the minors and try to build on the strides he made last year. He believes he tightened up his breaking ball during his brief time with the Indians and he also gained confidence.

"You feel valued when a team like that puts you on their 40-man," he said. "Now I'm here and it's just like a new chapter.

"I feel like I'm more on the map now. I'm glad I was given the opportunity to come to big-league camp over here. I assumed when I was sent back to the Phillies that I would go straight back to minor-league camp, but I'm glad I got the opportunity to come out here and for the staff to get to see me pitch because I'm a little different pitcher than I was last year. You're constantly evolving and I feel like I got better when I was there with the Indians."

Burnett had an out in his contract this weekend that he could exercise if he wasn't going to make the 25-man roster. The Phillies appear to have two spots open in their bullpen with five relievers in the running -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez, Alec Asher, Luis Garcia and Cesar Ramos. Ramos is a long shot because he's not on the 40-man roster.

Team officials were expected to meet late Sunday as they begin the finalize the 25-man roster. Opening day is a week from Monday.

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

Ruben Amaro Jr. keeps tabs on prospects from the pivotal Hamels trade from afar

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Even though he's been gone for 18 months and now wears a Boston Red Sox uniform, Ruben Amaro Jr. still has skin in the Phillies' rebuild.

Amaro was the Phillies' general manager in July 2015 when the team sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers for a package that included five prospects, some who have already contributed in the major leagues and others that are knocking on the door.

And though his professional concern these days is coaching first base for Red Sox, Amaro still sneaks an occasional peek at how those prospects are progressing.

"Absolutely," he said before the Phillies and Red Sox played Saturday afternoon (see story). "It's human nature.

"It seems like they're doing OK. I think eventually they will all be contributors in the big leagues. If you get five of those guys to contribute in the big leagues, I think that's a pretty good trade."

The Phillies got three right-handed pitchers, Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Jake Thompson, in that deal, as well as catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams.

Thompson, Alfaro and Williams will be part of a prospect-studded Triple A Lehigh Valley team this season, and all three could be regulars in the majors in a year. Asher is still a candidate to make this year's big-league club in the bullpen.

Eickhoff, of course, is already a stalwart on the club. The 26-year-old right-hander led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) last season. His mark of 1.92 walks per nine innings was fourth-best among National League starting pitchers last season.

Earlier this week, manager Pete Mackanin named Jeremy Hellickson his opening day starter. Hellickson called it "a great honor," then admitted that he thought Eickhoff deserved it more.

Eickhoff has been called a throw-in in the Hamels trade.

In fact, the pitcher himself used that phrase recently.

Amaro set the record straight.

"He wasn't a throw-in," the former GM said.

In terms of upside, Eickhoff might have ranked fourth in the deal behind Alfaro, Williams and Thompson, but he was a guy the Phillies invested many scouting hours in, a guy they wanted.

"He was an important part of it because he was one of the closest to getting to the big leagues as a starter and we needed guys from the upper levels because we didn't have a lot of them in starting pitching," Amaro said.

Amaro and Rangers GM Jon Daniels worked on the Hamels deal for months before pulling the trigger at July 2015 trade deadline.

Eickhoff had popped on the Phillies' radar when scout Charley Kerfeld watched him throw on a back field at the Rangers' minor-league complex. Scouts Dewey Colbert and Bart Braun also saw him.

"All of our guys saw him," Amaro said. "Charley saw him a lot. Dewey and Bart saw him. We had multiple looks on him and everybody else in that deal. We had quality recommendations.

"He wasn't one of (Texas') top 10 guys. But that's what good scouting is all about.

"After we made the trade, I talked to Jon Daniels about it and he said Eickhoff was the guy he was most pissed off about moving because he loved his character and the way he went about his business. He told me, 'I wish you would have substituted somebody else for Eickhoff.'"

Eickhoff actually came to the majors when Amaro was still the Phillies' GM. Amaro was let go between the time Eickhoff made his fourth and fifth starts.

Amaro peeked at the box scores after Eickhoff's starts last season.

Was he surprised by Eickhoff's performance?

"With the amount of innings he had, absolutely," he said. "But that's a great credit to him.

"Eickhoff has something that's different from other guys. He's got that thing that you need as a major league pitcher to be successful. He's got that internal drive and he's got (guts). That's big. You can't measure that with a protractor.

"Other things can be measured with a protractor. That one can't.

"From my brief time with him and from talking to other people, I know he wants to be good. You can tell he's got something in there."

With all of this going for him, why was Eickhoff rated fourth in the deal?

"Ceiling," Amaro said. "When you talk about ceiling, overall stuff, Thompson was one of those guys who had a higher ceiling. But ceilings, obviously, can change when a guy gets to the big leagues.

"We had a lot of internal debates about how guys lined up in this trade."

In the months leading up to the deal, the Phillies sought Alfaro and power-hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara, who hit 20 homers as a 21-year-old rookie for the Rangers last season.

"Mazara was about as untouchable as you can get," Amaro said. "Real high-ceiling guy who we liked the most probably along with Alfaro.

"We talked for a long time. It got to the point where we would not do the deal without Alfaro. We had to get 'a guy' and everyday catcher is such a crucial position. As far as the position guys, he was the most crucial."

The Phillies wanted an outfield bat in the deal, as well. With Mazara not in play, they focused on Williams and Lewis Brinson, a prospect who the Rangers sent to Milwaukee in last summer's deal for catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

"There was a lot of discussion about Williams and Brinson," Amaro said. "We liked them both. We thought that Williams was closer at the time and we really wanted guys that were close and we liked the way (Williams) swung the bat."

The final verdict on Amaro's watershed trade with the Rangers is still years away. Hamels has helped Texas get to the postseason the last two seasons and helps fuel that club's big dreams this season.

The Phillies' haul in the deal is still percolating and the team hopes it one day comes together as a fine brew.

And if it does, Ruben Amaro Jr. can feel some satisfaction. He's no longer a Phillie, but he has some skin in the team's rebuild.