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.”

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge breaks Mark McGwire's HR rookie record, Yankees top Royals

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge circled the bases for the 50th time this season, breaking Mark McGwire's major league record for home runs by a rookie, and returned to the Yankees dugout to exchange handshakes, hugs and high-fives with excited teammates.

And then, he walked up the steps and back onto the field.

Embarrassed by the attention, he managed four short waves with his right hand before heading back to the bench just three seconds later.

"They kind of told me: `You got to go out there. You got to go out there,'" he would later recall. "First curtain call. I hope it was a good one."

Judge had his second straight two-homer game in an 11-3 rout of Kansas City on Monday. On an unseasonably warm autumn afternoon, the Yankees won for the 16th time in 22 games during a playoff push that earned no worse than a wild card.

The 6-foot-7, 25-year-old slugger tied McGwire's 1987 mark with a two-run drive to right-center off Jakob Junis (8-3) in the third inning that put New York ahead 3-0, driving a 93 mph high fastball 389 feet about a half-dozen rows into the right field seats (see full recap).

Russell makes food run, Cubs beat Cards to near clinch
ST. LOUIS -- Say cheese!

Addison Russell and the Chicago Cubs were all smiles after moving within a victory of another division title Monday night.

Russell hit a three-run double in the first inning, then made a food run for a fan in enemy territory while the Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 10-2. Chicago can wrap up the division with a win Tuesday against the Cardinals or a loss by Milwaukee against Cincinnati.

Russell helped the Cubs get to starter Luke Weaver (7-2) early, then made some friends out of rival fans. After diving into the stands chasing a foul ball down the third-base line and spilling a man's tray of chips, Russell emerged from the dugout a few innings later with a plate of nachos and delivered it to the fan. Russell stopped to take a selfie before heading back to play shortstop.

"That was pretty entertaining," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said (see full recap).

Donaldson, Blue Jays stop Red Sox winning streak at 6
BOSTON -- The Boston Red Sox would like to get the AL East wrapped up quickly so they can start resting some banged-up players.

Josh Donaldson homered and drove in three runs, powering the Toronto Blue Jays past the first-place Red Sox 6-4 on Monday night.

Boston's six-game winning streak was snapped and its magic number to clinch a second straight division title remained at three. The Red Sox lead the second-place New York Yankees, who beat Kansas City earlier in the day, by four games with six remaining.

But the most important thing for the Red Sox was the loss of two key players to injuries. For how long? They don't know yet.

Eduardo Nunez and Mookie Betts both left the game early. Nunez aggravated a right knee injury that sidelined him for 13 games, and Betts came out with pain in his left wrist (see full recap).

Rangers fall to Astros, wild-card hopes fading
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Marwin Gonzalez had four hits and three RBIs as the AL West champion Houston Astros beat Texas 11-2 on Monday night, putting the Rangers on the brink of elimination in the wild-card race.

Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, the American League leader with 199 hits and a .348 batting average, left in the eighth inning after he was hit by a 95 mph fastball. The team said X-rays were negative and Altuve had a bruised forearm.

Gonzalez had two hits and scored twice in an eight-run fourth, including a two-run single that chased starter Andrew Cashner (10-11). Gonzalez later hit his 23rd homer, a solo shot in the sixth.

Collin McHugh (4-2) struck out six while throwing 112 pitches in five innings. The right-hander is 15-0 with a 2.94 ERA in 19 starts in September or October during his four seasons with the Astros (see full recap).

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

In final start of 2017, Aaron Nola establishes himself as Phillies' best pitcher in loss

BOX SCORE

Before beginning a season-ending six-game homestand Monday night, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin singled out Aaron Nola when asked about the positives of what is mostly a dismal 2017 season. 

“Nola has really established himself,” Mackanin said pregame. “To me, he’s a solid No. 3 starter.”

Nola then looked the part in what was likely his final start of the year, using a sharp curveball to strike out nine over six innings in the Phillies’ 3-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see observations)

“I felt like just the command and getting ahead of hitters helped out this year,” Nola said. 

Returning from elbow surgery that ended his 2016 season in July, Nola (12-11) became the best starter on the team thanks to the development of a changeup in spring training to go with his fastball and dominant curveball. 

“I felt a lot stronger,” the soft-spoken Nola said when asked to sum up his season. “I felt like I was using my legs more and that increased my velocity a little bit.” 

Nola allowed two runs or fewer in 18 of his 27 starts. His 184 strikeouts are the most by a Phillies pitcher who made fewer than 30 starts in a season. 

“I wouldn’t call him a power pitcher. He doesn’t appear to be a strikeout pitcher,” Mackanin said. “But when you can locate your fastball and get ahead with your fastball down in the strike zone and have that kind of curveball and then you add that kind of changeup, now the hitter has three pitches to worry about.”

He struck out 36 over his final four starts and 25 1/3 innings, using his sweeping curve as an out pitch. All but one of his strikeouts Monday night came on the curve. 

“It’s been good,” Nola said. “I’ve been able to command it on both sides of the plate and down, which has helped me. I felt like my fastball command was better this year than it was last year.” 

In a rotation in which basically nothing else is settled, Nola gives the Phillies an anchor for next season. The 24-year-old LSU product has a 3.54 ERA and the changeup gives him three quality pitches. 

“It’s been kind of the cherry on top, a little bit, being able to throw that right-on-right,” catcher Andrew Knapp said of the changeup. “It’s a hard pitch to hit when you’re a left-handed hitter. But when you’re right-handed and coming to that back foot, it’s a really good pitch.” 

Nola retired the first four hitters before Jayson Werth singled and Michael A. Taylor followed by crushing a 3-1 fastball into the left-field seats for his 17th homer. 

It was the 18th home run allowed by Nola. But he got into a groove from there. Facing a lineup without Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rendon, Nola held the NL East champions to two runs and five hits with two walks. 

But it didn’t prevent the Phillies from losing for the fourth time in five games. 

Odubel Herrera’s solo home run on an 0-2 pitch from A.J. Cole (3-5) in the fourth was all the offense the Phillies could muster. They’ve managed seven runs in four games. 

Rhys Hoskins is slumping (0 for 4 and hasn’t homered since Sept. 14) and Nick Williams struck out three times. 

“Our bats have gone silent for a few days now,” Mackanin said. 

They still have to win one more to avoid 100 losses, and many changes are possible in the offseason. Mackanin said before the game that “I still don’t know if I’ll be back here next year," (see story)

It’s a team that still has plenty of holes and lots of questions ahead of 2018. 

Nola, though, appears to be someone they can rely on. 

“The goal is to have five [reliable] guys on every start. But it’s nice,” Mackanin said. “When Nola pitches, we all expect to win. He’s done an outstanding job. He’s had the arm issues, but he came back from that better than he was before.”