Tight teammates: Utley, Asche formed bond in '13

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Tight teammates: Utley, Asche formed bond in '13

It was not a coincidence that Cody Asche ended up with a locker right next to Chase Utley in the Phillies’ clubhouse when he came to the majors in July.

Utley had gotten to know Asche in spring training and thought there was something special there. So he mentioned to the clubhouse staff that he’d give up the veteran’s perk of a vacant next-door locker as long as Asche was moving in.

“I know that when you’re a young guy, it’s nice to have someone who has been around to help navigate you in the right direction,” Utley said. “Pat Burrell did it for me. He took me under his wing and I always appreciated it.”

Asche, 23, had some ups and downs during his two-month audition in the majors, but the ups were impressive enough that he will come into spring training in February as the “lead candidate” -- manager Ryne Sandberg’s words -- to be the Phillies’ starting third baseman in 2014.

Before the Phillies’ season-ending game Sunday in Atlanta, Asche praised the 34-year-old Utley for mentoring him and making him feel comfortable during his two-month stint in the big leagues.

“Chase has been huge from a preparation standpoint,” Asche said. “Just seeing what he does -- video, [batting] cage work, getting his body ready … Everything has been helpful.”

Asche knows that Utley was behind his locker assignment in the home clubhouse and was flattered by it.

“That’s what a leader does,” Asche said. “They can sense people that need a little guidance and they do that stuff. That makes him a great leader, like Jimmy (Rollins), Cole (Hamels), Chooch (Ruiz).”

Utley is a stickler for preparation. He has to be. He has to constantly be on top of his physical regimen to ward off pain flare-ups in his knees. After missing significant time in 2011 and 2012 because of cartilage issues in both knees, he was able to stay on the field in 2013. He played in 131 games, his most since 2009, and hit .284 with 18 homers and 69 RBIs. His did spend a month on the disabled list, but it was for an oblique injury, not a knee problem. The knee condition will never go away, but Utley is confident he can manage it and remain on the field. So is Phillies management, which gave him a multi-year contract extension in August.

Utley has learned that restarting baseball activities after a layoff can be hell on his knees. That’s why he never stopped doing baseball work last offseason. He worked out year-round with the baseball team at the University of San Francisco and will do so again this offseason.

“I feel like the improvements we’ve made the past year have been significant,” Utley said. “I don’t anticipate any change.”

Asche also has some offseason plans.

He started his big-league career 1 for 17 but hit .304 with five homers, 19 RBIs and an .889 OPS in his next 32 games before tailing off and finishing with just three hits in his final 33 at-bats.

He would like to get stronger this winter.

“I want to be strong and in shape when I come into camp so I can make the most of those six weeks,” he said.

GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has resisted anointing Asche as the team’s third baseman for 2014. Makes sense. He wants to keep Asche hungry. Besides, the Phils will have another promising third baseman in camp, slugger Maikel Franco. The 21-year-old combined to hit .320 with 31 homers and 103 RBIs at Single A and Double A in 2013.

“I frankly hope there is a great competition in spring training between Maikel and Cody,” Amaro said. “That can create a heck of a situation for us. They’re both very, very good young players.”

Asche knows Franco is coming hard. He will be ready for the competition. He is confident, but takes nothing for granted.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I can play here,” Asche said on the final day of the season. “I have confidence in myself. That’s what I took away. But you can’t stop adjusting. I made some adjustments after I got here, the pitchers made some adjustments, and now I have to make another one.

“For me, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel all winter: Make the team, be part of a winning team.

“I don’t look at it as it’s my job to lose. I look at it as it’s a spot I need to get. I put it on myself to make the decision easy for them.”

For the record, Utley believes Asche will be the Phils’ opening day third baseman in 2014.

“I don’t see why not,” Utley said. “I think he’s going to be a good one. He’s got talent. I think he’s going to keep getting better. The fact that he wants to improve and get better is an encouraging sign.”

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph both start

Tonight's lineup: Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph both start

Wednesday's matchup against floundering White Sox righty James Shields is a rare opportunity for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin to have both Ryan Howard and Tommy Joseph in the same lineup (see game notes). In an American League ballpark against a right-handed starter, Howard (DH) will bat cleanup and Joseph (1B) will hit sixth.

Howard, who is hitting .378 with five homers and 13 RBIs in August, sat out Tuesday's 9-1 loss (see game recap). The Phillies managed only five hits, as White Sox lefty Carlos Rodon stymied the team's offense.

Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera also return to the lineup. Herrera has four hits in six career at-bats against Shields. Overall, the Phillies have a .297 batting average against the veteran Sox starter. 

With Herrera and Hernandez back at the top of the order, Aaron Altherr moves down from second to seventh. Out of Altherr's 95 at-bats this season, only four have come from the seventh spot. Here is the full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Ryan Howard, DH
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Aaron Altherr, LF
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

Tim Tebow's baseball bid 'kind of a slap in the face,' says Phillies reliever

CHICAGO — David Hernandez has great respect for what Tim Tebow did on the football field.

But as for Tebow's bid to become a major-league baseball player at age 29 after not having played the game since he was a junior in high school — well, Hernandez has some strong opinions.

The Phillies' relief pitcher first voiced them on Twitter when Tebow announced his intentions two weeks ago and echoed them when it was announced Tuesday that the former Heisman trophy-winning quarterback had scheduled a private showcase for major-league scouts to be held next week in Los Angeles. As a matter of curiosity and due diligence, the Phillies will have a scout peek in on Tebow's workout. As many as 20 other teams are expected to be on hand as well.

"I think it's ridiculous," Hernandez said of Tebow's bid to reach the majors. "Hats off to him for getting an opportunity, but I just don't think it's very plausible that he'll get anywhere.

"Nothing against him, but just from the standpoint that getting to the major leagues is a long grind. It's not easy. There's a lot of work that goes into it. 

"It's kind of a slap in the face for him to say, 'I think I'll grab my things and go play pro baseball.' It's not that easy."

Hernandez, 31, pitched in high school and college then spent more than four seasons in the minors before getting to the majors with Baltimore in 2009. Before signing with the Phillies last winter, he pitched for Arizona and survived Tommy John surgery. 

In other words, he's put in the time. He knows how difficult it is to make the climb to the majors.

So does catcher Cameron Rupp. He was recruited to play linebacker at Iowa, but baseball was his first love and playing in the majors his goal. He played three years for his home state Texas Longhorns before being selected by the Phillies in the third round of the 2010 draft. 

Rupp laughed when he first heard of Tebow's intention. 

He remained skeptical when he heard Tebow had lined up a showcase.

"If that's what he wants to do — good luck," Rupp said. "Guys play a long time trying to get where we are. And those that are here are trying to stay here. Staying here is the tough part.

"High school is one thing. A lot of guys play high school and were good and get to pro ball and are overmatched. He's an athlete, no question. But you can't go 10 years without seeing live pitching and all of the sudden some guy is throwing 95 (mph). That will be a challenge. 

"I don't know if he thinks baseball is easy. It's not. It'll be interesting."

Bench coach Larry Bowa is a huge sports fan, loves football and loves what Tebow did on the field at the University of Florida. 

But Bowa has been in pro ball for 50 years. He played in the majors for 16 years and has managed and coached in the majors. Like Hernandez and Rupp, Bowa is skeptical about Tebow's chances and he wonders about the former quarterback's overall understanding of the challenge he faces.

"Whosever idea it is, they don't respect the game of baseball," Bowa said. "It's a hard game. You don't come in at age 28 or 29. I'm not saying he's not a good athlete, but this is a hard game and there are a lot of good athletes in pro ball that never get to the big leagues. 

"I don't think it can happen. There are guys 28 or 29 that are getting released everyday. How can you take 10 years off and all of the sudden be facing guys throwing 95, guys throwing sliders?"

Tebow did show some baseball tools as an outfielder/pitcher in high school. He hit .494 with four homers and 30 RBIs as a junior at Nease HS in Ponte Vedra, Florida, before giving up baseball to focus on football. He played three seasons in the NFL with the Broncos and Jets but failed to stick. 

Clearly, he still has the competitiveness, desire and work ethic that he took to the gridiron. It's just difficult to see that ever getting him to the major leagues. 

But if he ever does ...

"Who knows, maybe I'll face him," critic David Hernandez said with a laugh. "Hopefully he doesn't hit a home run off me. That would be the ultimate comeback."

MLB Notes: Angels closer Huston Street has season-ending surgery

MLB Notes: Angels closer Huston Street has season-ending surgery

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Los Angeles Angels closer Huston Street has undergone season-ending arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.

Street had surgery to repair a torn meniscus Wednesday in his native Texas.

The surgery puts an end to the least impressive season of Street's 12-year career. The three-time All-Star is 3-2 with a career-low nine saves and a 6.45 ERA.

Street hasn't pitched since July 31. He missed significant playing time earlier this season with an oblique muscle injury.

Street is expected to be healthy for next season. He is under contract for $9 million in 2017.

He is the sixth player to undergo season-ending surgery for the Angels (52-73), who are on pace for their worst season in 23 years.

Nationals: Katie Ledecky to throw out 1st pitch
WASHINGTON -- Swimmer Katie Ledecky is throwing out the ceremonial first pitch Wednesday night as the Washington Nationals host the Baltimore Orioles in game three of a four-game series.

The 19-year-old Bethesda native returned from the games in Rio with four golds and a silver medal. It will be the third time Ledecky has thrown out the first pitch at Nationals Park.

The Nationals have lost the first two games of the Beltway rivalry series.

Ledecky set world records in winning the 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle. She also won gold in the 200m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay, and silver in the 4x100m freestyle.

She will be a freshman at Stanford in the fall.