Sandberg maintains faith in slow-starting Asche

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Sandberg maintains faith in slow-starting Asche

LOS ANGELES -- After starting three straight games in Denver, Cody Asche did not play in the Phillies' 7-0 win over the Dodgers on Monday night.

It was really not a surprise that manager Ryne Sandberg went with Freddy Galvis over Asche at third base. The Dodgers had a lefty, Paul Maholm, on the mound and Galvis is a switch-hitter while Asche hits solely from the left side.

Asche could conceivably get another night off Tuesday as the Dodgers will start another lefty, Hyun-Jin Ryu, in the second game of the series.

Asche had a pair of hits in three games in Denver, but he’s still hitting just .196 (9 for 46) over his first 17 games. The hits in Denver are his only two in his last 23 at-bats.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was frank in his assessment of Asche before Monday night’s game.

“He’s not playing as well as we'd like,” Amaro said.

But Amaro was quick to add that the Phillies must continue to show patience in the 23-year-old who has just 67 games of big-league experience.

“We have to give him chances to play,” Amaro said.

Asche isn’t the only third baseman in the Phillies' system off to a slow start. Top prospect Maikel Franco, 21, was hitting just .153 in his first 16 games at Triple A. Franco, who split last season between Single A and Double A, could eventually put pressure on Asche, but it's not happening now.

“Kids, man,” Amaro said. “It takes some time to adjust. Same with Asche. They’re kids. You have to go through some growing pains with the kiddies. Everybody wants everybody to be an all-star right away. It's not happening.”

If anyone is going to push Asche for playing time at the moment, it’s Galvis. Utility man Jayson Nix could also get some time at third against left-handed pitching.

Sandberg was asked before Monday night’s game whether Galvis was a candidate for more time at third.

He did not say no.

“It’s a day-at-a-time type of thing,” the manager said. “That’s how I look at that, basically.”

Like Amaro, Sandberg stressed patience with Asche.

“I have a lot of faith in Asche, with what he did last year, with what he can do when he’s relaxed and staying within himself,” Sandberg said. “In Colorado, I thought he had a good approach to his at-bats, a base hit up the middle, a base hit to center field. And he hit two balls to the shortstop. That was the approach he was talked to about -- using the whole field, not being so pull-happy. So I think that was progress and steps in the right direction for him.

“Cody is a line-drive hitter and he hits the ball well to left and left-center. Basically we want him to do what he’s done to get here. Be yourself. Power and all of that, sometimes that comes two, three years into it. Hit for average, do your job that way -- that goes a long way as far as breaking into the major leagues.”

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 32⅔ 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.