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.”

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

Nola, bench, the kids and more: A half-dozen issues to watch as Phillies get set to play games

CLEARWATER, Fla. — For the first time since Oct. 2 when Ryan Howard tipped his cap and Hector Neris retired Kevin Plawecki on a ground ball to third base to give them a 5-2 win over the New York Mets, the Phillies will play a game on Thursday afternoon.

They will host the University of Tampa for the third straight year in an exhibition game at Spectrum Field. The Spartans are 7-2 and ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II.

Manager Pete Mackanin will take the opportunity to look at a number of minor-league prospects in his starting lineup on Thursday. Minor-league right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. will start for the Phillies.

The Phillies will play a number of their projected regular players in Friday’s Grapefruit League opener against the Yankees in Tampa.

As the games get going, the evaluations and decision-making process ramps up for Mackanin, the coaching staff and the front office.

Let’s take a look at the six biggest storylines that will unfold over the course of the Grapefruit League season:

Aaron Nola
So far, so good for the right-hander who missed the last two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He says he is completely healthy and his early-camp bullpen sessions have gone smoothly.

But game action will bring a rise in intensity and a truer gauge of Nola’s health. He is expected to make his first start sometime next week.

“I'm real anxious to see Nola pitch,” manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “We all know what he's capable of doing when he's healthy. Right now, he appears to be and says he is 100 percent. My only concern for him is as we go along into the season, if it's going to come back to haunt him. Right now, I'm real pleased at the way he's throwing and the way he looks. He feels very confident.”

Nola has no limits, but ...

“We will have to keep a close eye on him,” Mackanin said. “All the pitchers, actually. Especially him. I know how good he can be. I'm looking forward to seeing him pitch. Hopefully, every outing he has, he won't show any signs of it. That's the only thing I'm concerned about, that thing coming back.”

The bullpen
Mackanin opened camp by saying that Jeanmar Gomez was his closer — “at this point.”

Like all pitchers, Gomez will need some time and innings to get into a spring rhythm. Serious evaluation of him probably won’t happen until later in the spring. If he pitches well, he will most likely seize the closer job that he lost last September. If he struggles, he could end up forfeiting the closer gig to Hector Neris or Joaquin Benoit and move into a setup role, where he had success in 2015 and could be an asset because of his ability to pitch multiple innings. For the record, Gomez says he will be happy in whatever role Mackanin asks him to fill.

Other roles are open in the bullpen. In particular, Mackanin is looking for at least one lefty and ideally two. Joely Rodriguez probably has the inside track for one lefty spot because he’s on the 40-man roster. Adam Morgan will get starter’s innings in camp, but he could end up in the bullpen. Veterans Cesar Ramos and Sean Burnett, both in camp on minor-league contracts, will each get a serious look to make the club.

Hitting approach
The Phillies were last in the majors in runs (610) and second-to-last in batting average (.240) and on-base percentage (.301) in 2016.

New hitting coach Matt Stairs is trying to improve the team’s on-base skills by stressing a gap-to-gap approach and not giving away at-bats. In other words, have a plan before the at-bat, key on a particular zone early in the count and don’t expand until there are two strikes.

Turning these hitters into a group that works counts, grinds out at-bats and gets on base won’t happen overnight, but Mackanin would like to see some progress in exhibition play.

“It takes a while for all of it to settle in,” Mackanin said. “When you hit a certain way your whole life or your thought process is a certain way your whole life, it's hard to make changes because you're out of your comfort zone. The important thing is for the players to buy into what Matt Stairs is selling. If they do that, I think we're going to improve.”

The bench
Barring injury, the starting eight position jobs are settled, but there is intrigue on the bench. Outfielder Aaron Altherr and infielder Andres Blanco appear to be locks and it’s difficult to imagine infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan not making the club. There are others in the mix, including veteran Daniel Nava.

The most intriguing bench question is who will be the backup catcher? Prospect Andrew Knapp will get a long look both behind the plate and at first base as he bids to win a reserve role at both positions. Big-league veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan are also vying for the role of backup catcher.

A roster sleeper?
Last year, little known outfielder Cedric Hunter hit his way onto the opening day roster.

Will there be a repeat this spring?

Keep an eye on Brock Stassi and Andrew Pullin. Both are in camp as non-roster players. Both swing from the left side, have strong minor-league hitting resumes and could be very much in play if the Phils want to add a bat off the bench.

Pullin is a corner outfielder with a short, quick stroke that will remind you of Jim Eisenreich. Stassi has a good bat and could bring some versatility with his ability to play first base and outfield.

The kids
It’s always fun to look at the next wave of potential Phillies early in the Grapefruit League season. Outfielder Roman Quinn was one of the most exciting players in camp last year and he’s primed for another good showing before heading off to Triple A finishing school.

Top prospect J.P. Crawford will get a lot of looks at shortstop before heading to minor-league camp, and it will be fun to watch the power bats of Rhys Hoskins and Dylan Cozens; they combined for 78 homers at Double A last season.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams, both heading into important seasons at Triple A, will get playing time, commencing with starting assignments on Thursday.

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

Phillies prospect Victor Arano out at least a month with elbow injury

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies received some good and bad news on pitcher Victor Arano.

He was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Surgery was not prescribed, which is good news.

The bad news, he’s been shut down for at least a month.

Arano’s injury was treated with a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection.

The 22-year-old from Mexico said he first started feeling some tenderness in the elbow during a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He experienced some swelling in the elbow after reporting to camp earlier this month.

Arano is an intriguing prospect. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79⅔ innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano’s stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season.

The injury means Arano will have to start the season on the disabled list.

In other health news, pitcher Jake Thompson graduated to a bullpen mound on Wednesday. He had been slowed by a sore wrist but is fine now. Thompson proved that by winning the longest drive at Tuesday’s annual team golf outing.

Thompson lines up to open the season at Triple A.