Phils' Asche following Hall of Fame footsteps

Posted: April 23, 2014

LOS ANGELES - Since the Phillies' lineup was matched up against lefthander Paul Maholm, who has seen righthanded hitters hit nearly 70 points higher than lefthanders in his career, it was hardly surprising that Cody Asche was out of last night's starting nine at Dodger Stadium.

Asche also gave way to a pinch-hitter a day earlier in Denver, in another right-lefty matchup. And since Freddy Galvis returned from the disabled list 10 days earlier, Asche has been out of the lineup in four of the last 10 games.

Asche entered the four-game series with the Dodgers hitting .196 with a .275 OBP, three extra-base hits, five walks and 14 strikeouts in 17 games. So, could Galvis see more time at third?

"It's a day-at-a-time type of thing," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I have a lot of faith in Asche, with what he did last year, with what he can do, relaxed and staying within himself. In the last three games in Colorado, I thought he had a good approach."

Asche had two hits and just one strikeout in three games at Coors Field; he snapped an 0-for-16 skid in the first game of the series.

The Phillies are in no hurry to give up on the youngest position player on their roster. Asche has played all of 67 big-league games.

"He's not playing as well as we'd like," general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "But we have to give him chances to play."

Comparing Cody Asche to a couple of players who currently have plaques at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is borderline ludicrous. But the careers of Sandberg and Mike Schmidt do provide at least a frame of reference that teams can be rewarded for practicing patience with young players.

Forty-one years ago, in 1973, Schmidt began his first full season with the Phillies. He was 23, too. Through his first 67 major league games, Schmidt hit .224 with 16 extra-base hits, including nine home runs, while also racking up 68 strikeouts. Asche's first 67 games are eerily similar: .226, 17 extra-base hits (six home runs) and 57 strikeouts.

"I think with Cody, he's a line-drive hitter, he hits the ball well to leftfield and left-centerfield with those pitches," Sandberg said of Asche, who he said had gotten into a pull-happy stretch for a while. "It's basically for him to do what he's done that allowed him to get here. Be yourself . . . Hit for average, do your job that way. That goes a long way as far as breaking into the major leagues."

Asche could also be a streaky hitter, which makes him not unlike many professional hitters.

Case in point: Asche went 1-for-17 in his first six games after being called up for the first time in July. Then he hit .290 with 14 extra-base hits (five home runs) and 20 RBI over his next 35 games. Then he went just 1-for-21 in his final nine games of the season.

Amaro also called Asche a traditional slow starter. Although Asche hit .264 in his first month at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season, he began the season hitting .178 after 12 games.

Sandberg can relate to early-season struggles. The Hall of Fame second baseman was a career .230 hitter in 281 big-league games in his career in March and April. In May and June, Sandberg hit .298 and .300 in his career.

"The trap a young player doesn't want to fall into is to try to do what the veteran players do, and copy them too much," Sandberg said. "[You can incorporate] what's similar to your routine, but don't make great changes with what you do. Doing what got you to this point is very, very important.

"For my first 2 years, I was a gap-to-gap hitter, hit a lot of balls to rightfield, right-center. I'd take my base hits and hit for average. And that went a long way to getting on base and helping the team."

Sandberg was 22 when he began his first full big-league season with the Cubs in 1982. He went 1-for-30 in his first nine games that season and, in the month of April, batted .203 with a .229 OBP and just four extra-base hits in 20 games. Through his first 67 major league games, Sandberg was hitting .220 with nine extra-base hits (two homers) and 35 strikeouts.

"Kids, man," Amaro said. "It takes some time to adjust. Children . . . 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."

Amaro's answer actually came in response to another struggling third baseman. Maikel Franco, the organization's top hitting prospect, entered yesterday hitting .153 with two extra-base hits, five walks and 15 strikeouts in 16 games with Triple A Lehigh Valley this season.

Franco hit .320 with a .926 OPS, 31 home runs and 103 RBI in 134 games between Double A Reading and Lehigh Valley in 2013, earning the Paul Owens Award for the Phillies' top minor league position player. Franco entered yesterday without a home run in 65 plate appearances this year.

"He hasn't played in the cold weather all that much," Amaro said. "He had a poor start at Lakewood, and then got hot."

Two years ago, Franco was hitting .208 in the first 25 games of the season at Low A Lakewood. He hit .297 in the season's final 107 games.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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