Big 2012 turned Asche into Phillies' 3B of the future

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Big 2012 turned Asche into Phillies' 3B of the future

When the Phillies set out to address their hole at third base this offseason they looked mostly for a player who would be a short-term fit. Michael Young, signed through 2013, ended up being that guy.The Phillies preferred not to make a long-term commitment to a new third baseman because they believe they have one percolating in the minors. The Phils have not had a homegrown third baseman since Scott Rolen.They hope Cody Asche can eventually be that guy.Asche, 22, forced his way into the teams plans with a brilliant season in the minors in 2012. He opened the season in the single A Florida State League and earned a promotion to Double A in June. For the season, he hit .324 with 33 doubles, six triples, 12 homers and 72 RBIs in 130 games. His on-base percentage was .369 and he slugged .481.Asche did not come out of nowhere. It just seems that way.He was a fourth-round pick by the Phils out of the University of Nebraska in 2011. That summer, the Phils sent him to Single A Williamsport, where he hit just .192 and slugged .264 in 239 at-bats. One team official said Asche had a dead bat that season.Not for long.A 6-1, 185-pound left-handed hitter, Asche reported to the Florida Instructional League in the fall of 2011 and resurrected his bat. He made improvements on his swing load, using his hands and legs more. The results showed in spring training 2012 and team officials decided to fast-track him and send him to the Florida State League instead of the South Atlantic League. By the end of June, Asche was in Reading, where he hit .300 and slugged .513 in 68 games games for the Phillies Double A club.Reading manager Dusty Wathan was not surprised by Asches quick rise.Not at all, Wathan said. I love the guy. Hes a very focused and driven player who works hard at the game and plays hard. Hes a throwback guy.Wathan believes Asche benefitted from his difficult 2011 season, and believes Asche will continue to benefit from it in years to come.I think one of the great things thats going to help him in his career is the struggles he had in Williamsport his first year when he hit .190, Wathan said. When a guy can overcome that, its something. He made adjustments and found success. He stuck with it. Failure can be a plus in this game. All these guys are going to fail somewhere along the line, whether its A ball, Double A, or the major leagues. At some point in time youre going to have a couple of bad months or thats going to be the peak of your career. With a guy having it so early in his career and being able to overcome it -- I think its going to be a tremendous asset to his career.There was one other thing that may have helped awaken Asches game in 2012.He played second base at Williamsport in 2011 as prospects Harold Martinez and Maikel Franco got most of the time at third. In 2012, Asche moved back to third base, the position he played in college.I dont think second was the perfect fit for me, Asche said in a recent interview. Going back to third felt more natural.From a season in which he hit .192 to a season in which he became the Phillies third baseman of the future, it was all a whirlwind for Asche.Things can happen fast, he said. You know that going into pro ball. Anything can happen. Looking back at my season, I think that proves that theory.Asche was not surprised that he rebounded so well in 2012.You have to stay confident in yourself and know that it wasnt just one of those seasons, that this is who you are as a player, he said. This is the player I think I am in my mind. Part of being a good player is having confidence in yourself.Its unclear where Asche will play in 2013. He could go back to Double A for a stint and work his way to Triple A. That will be determined in spring training. Regardless, Asche, like all players on the rise, has work to do in his development.The big questions in his game revolve around power and defense.Wathan, who also managed Asche in the Arizona Fall League, offered his opinion on both.Hes got a chance to be an everyday third baseman, Wathan said. His timetable, I dont know. But I think he will be an everyday guy.For some reason his defense has gotten knocked at third base. I disagree with a lot of people. I think hes going to be a good third baseman in the major leagues. We played him at second (in 2011) to get him at-bats and sometimes it takes time to get adjusted back at your original position.And the offense?Hes a guy who can hit, Wathan said. He makes a lot of contact. Hes still a young hitter who just finished his first full season of pro ball. He hits a lot of doubles and a lot of times power is the last thing to come. If you look at a hitter, I want a guy like this whos going to hit doubles, one who hits the gaps and eventually will be able to drive the ball out of the park.Asche hails from suburban St. Louis, but his family has deep Nebraska roots. He is a proud Cornhusker.I bleed Nebraska red, he said.Someday, he might bleed Phillies red.I have to keep improving my skill set, Asche said. Hopefully I can do that and put the organization in a good position. If you keep progressing, there will be opportunities.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com.

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

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Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 Saturday night behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered (see full recap).

Cardinals solve Wrigley again, crush Hammel, Cubs 10-4
CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Cardinals have a lot to accomplish if they want to return to Chicago in two weeks for a rematch of last year's NL Division Series. They would have to qualify for one of the wild-card spots, then win the single-elimination playoff game.

If they do, the Cardinals may be the one club that won't be fazed by Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

Yadier Molina drove in four runs, Stephen Piscotty homered and the Cardinals boosted their playoff hopes by getting to Jason Hammel early in a 10-4 rout of Chicago on Saturday.

Randal Grichuk added three RBIs and Jhonny Peralta had three hits and scored three runs for the Cardinals, who stopped a two-game skid and moved into a tie with San Francisco for the final NL wild-card spot pending the Giants' game at San Diego (see full recap).

Yanks shut out for 3rd straight game in 3-0 loss to Jays
TORONTO -- The New York Yankees' offense has disappeared, and their playoffs chances have pretty much vanished, too.

Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer off Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-0 Saturday.

New York has been shut out in three straight games for the first time July 27-28, 1975.

"Whatever we're doing right now, it's not working," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We just seem to have lost it the last few days."

The Yankees have lost 10 of 13 following a seven-game winning streak and dropped 4 1/2 games back for the AL's second wild card with eight games left. They likely will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years (see full recap).

Dietrich homers, Marlins end Braves' streak at 7 win
MIAMI -- Derek Dietrich hit a two-run homer to help the Miami Marlins end the Atlanta Braves' winning streak at seven games, winning 6-4 on Saturday night.

Dee Gordon had two hits, two walks and three stolen bases - one shy of tying the Marlins' single-game franchise high, which he has done on two separate occasions.

Atlanta's Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 28 games in the first inning and has reached base in 44 straight. He also hit a solo home run in the sixth, his 32nd.

Brian Ellington (4-2) earned the win in relief and A.J. Ramos recorded his 39th save in 42 chances.

The Braves pulled within 5-4 on a wild pitch by Fernando Rodney in the seventh inning (see full recap).