Phillies farmhand Cody Asche a quick study

Posted: May 20, 2012

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Cody Asche was sure the transition from the University of Nebraska to professional baseball would be a smooth one.

"I expected to just carry on," Asche said. "Williamsport would just be another part of what I did in college. I figured I'd go in and roll right along, and I did a complete opposite of what I thought."

Asche, a fourth-round draft choice last year, had hit .327 and led the Big 12 with 12 home runs during his junior season with the Cornhuskers. The Phillies sent him to their New York-Penn League team in Williamsport, Pa., figuring that would be a good place for him to get his feet wet.

Instead, he drowned, batting .192 with 50 strikeouts in 239 at-bats.

"It was pretty humbling," Asche said. "Just when you think you know a lot about this game, you go through something like I went through last year and I realized I had a ton to learn."

As it turned out, he learned a ton shortly after the Williamsport season ended.

"The first year when we get guys, we usually don't do much with them because they've been successful with what they did," Phillies assistant general manager Benny Looper said. "They're a little more willing to listen or change when they struggle some."

Asche, after a two-week break at home in suburban St. Louis, went to the instructional league in Clearwater and started working with Steve Henderson, the Phillies' minor-league hitting coordinator, on a mechanical adjustment designed to get his swing started faster.

"It wasn't something that came natural," Asche said. "It was something I had to work on a lot. There were a lot of swings in the cages this offseason to make it become a natural motion. It's something I still work on every day. It's something I didn't have to do at other levels in baseball. I was able to get away without it, but here it was a flaw in my swing and they found it out real quick."

Asche's improvement was so drastic in spring training that the Phillies decided he could hold his own skipping low-A ball in Lakewood and playing a more advanced level of single-A ball in Clearwater. He has not disappointed the decision makers.

Going into Friday's games, Asche was ranked second in the Florida State League with a .360 average. The lefthanded Asche also had 12 extra-base hits and 15 RBIs.

"He can swing the bat," Threshers manager Chris Truby said. "Facing a lefty or righty, it doesn't matter. He finds a way to put the barrel on the ball."

Asche has also found a position. He played second base last year at Williamsport because second-round pick Harold Martinez played third. Martinez is now playing mostly at first base for Lakewood.

"Coming into spring training, I thought I was going to either be a leftfielder or a first baseman, and then I got told to go take some balls at third and see what happens," Asche said. "That's where I played in college, so I jumped right into that. It's a position I played for three years. It's one of the positions I'm most confident at, so it makes the game a little easier and it helps the confidence level."

Biddle blossoms in May

For the second straight season, lefthander Jesse Biddle endured a miserable April. Last year, he posted a 7.16 ERA in April while pitching at Lakewood and this year he was 0-2 with a 5.60 ERA during the season's first month.

"I think the biggest difference was last April I wasn't throwing strikes and this April I was throwing strikes and they were getting hit hard," said Biddle, the Phillies' 2010 first-round pick out of Germantown Friends School. "That was . . . kind of tough because in some ways it's almost harder to kind of turn your head every time you throw the ball to see if it went off the wall.

"But at least I felt comfortable. Last year, I did not feel comfortable at all in April. After I was done each time this April, I would say to my pitching coach [Dave Lundquist], 'I felt good today.' And he'd say, 'You looked fine, the ball is just up in the zone and you have to get it down.'

"I don't know what it is about April. I think I just need to get through it, but with every struggle I feel like I learn something new every single time. So I guess that's the best way to look at it."

Biddle, 20, ended up having a great season in 2011 at Lakewood and he appears headed in that direction again this year at Clearwater. In his last five starts, he is 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA and has allowed 16 hits while striking out 24 in 25 innings.

He had a dominant fastball and nasty curveball in a 4-3 win over Jupiter on Thursday.

"The good thing about Jesse is no matter how good or bad it's going, he's going to compete and strive to get better," Truby said. "He realizes there are certain things he struggles with, and the thing last year is his change-up got a lot better. He hasn't completely got back to the feel of his change-up yet that he had at the end of last year, but the games he has had better command of that pitch, he has pitched better."

Colvin struggling

When the Phillies told righthander Brody Colvin he'd be repeating last season's assignment at Clearwater, they did not mean for him to repeat his performance. For the second straight season, however, Colvin is struggling with both his mechanics and his results.

He is 2-3 with a 5.31 ERA in eight starts and has walked 25 batters in 402/3 innings.

"He's just getting out of sync, and when he gets in trouble he has a hard time making that one pitch to get himself out of it," Looper said. "It's still there. He'll throw two-plus pitches, but his command has got to improve. He jerks a lot of fastballs. He's across his body and he comes back and misses on the glove side. He has shown us flashes."

Extra bases

Truby, whose team has won 14 of its last 21 entering the weekend, said he has been happy with the work of his entire bullpen, but particularly righthander Tyler Knigge, who has a 0.78 ERA in 15 appearances. . . . Second baseman Carlos Alonso, a 32d-round pick in 2010 out of the University of Delaware, went into the weekend hitting .321 for the Threshers. . . . Lehigh Valley went into the weekend with four straight wins, including shutouts in three straight games.

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