Asche plays like he belongs

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Domonic Brown is greeted by Cody Asche after Brown's fourth-inning home run on Saturday night.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Domonic Brown is greeted by Cody Asche after Brown's fourth-inning home run on Saturday night.
Posted: May 20, 2014

TONY CINGRANI was 578 miles from Philadelphia last Tuesday, so all he knows about Cody Asche is what he has seen over the weekend. Three hits Friday night. Three runs batted in Saturday night. A Sunday afternoon in which Asche "almost took my arm off" in the same inning his barehanded play on a bunt saved a run and preserved a tie for starter Cliff Lee, a Sunday afternoon in which Asche knocked in another three runs with a seventh-inning laser over the rightfield wall.

"He's a really good player,'' said Cingrani, the Cincinnati Reds lefthanded rookie who started and suffered the loss in yesterday's 8-3 Phillies victory. "He's played like a veteran the last three games."

When Asche was drafted out of Nebraska by the Phillies in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, independent scouts questioned his glove, his strength, just about everything but his baseball acumen. He was a subpar third baseman, they said, a subpar second baseman, they said, and although the overall opinion was that his bat would translate to this level, there was a significant difference of opinion about what kind of power or average he would provide, and how soon.

Cingrani was drafted out of Rice University in the third round by the Reds that same year, just a season after finishing with an 8.59 earned run average and more walks than strikeouts - a season that ended with him walking into the pitching coach's office and asking, "Do you all even want me back?"

David Pierce, the pitching coach, assured him they did. And in the offseason, Pierce shortened the lefthander's delivery, synced his arm motion with that of his left leg, even moved him into a reliever's role temporarily. His velocity improved by almost 10 mph, his control improved, and his draft position did, too.

Like Asche, Cingrani was promoted late last season to a team that was once the class of its division but now needed to plug a slew of holes. Like Asche, his tenure at the top has been bumpy, a mix of breathtaking strikeouts and gasping mistake pitches.

He allowed home runs to the first two batters he faced yesterday. He ended that inning by striking out Ryan Howard and Marlon Byrd on six pitches.

"It's just finding those perfect mechanics and then keeping it throughout the game," he said. "I'm learning. It's only my first full season, so I'm learning."

He admits to being too hard on himself. "One hundred percent," he said.

"But that's the kind of kid you want," said Asche. "Those high-character kids who care."

You hear those words out of his mouth and it sounds funny. Because you know that's his M.O., too. Tuesday, after one of his three errors disabled Lee's final attempt to escape trouble and led to the Phillies' 4-3 loss to the Angels, cameras caught Asche cursing out . . . himself. And in the most derogatory manner possible. And when reporters caught up to him later, Asche took the blame and sounded like a guy who expected to be benched.

It never happened. He played Wednesday's day game against the Angels, and while there were no redeeming heroics, there were no gasping miscues, either. "But just getting back out there was huge,'' he said.

Asche had three hits in Friday's 3-0 whitewashing by the Reds, earning him a two-spot jump in the lineup. Saturday, his two-run double in the fourth inning snapped the team's 23-inning scoreless streak and triggered the Phillies' 12-1 victory. And yesterday his three-run home run in the seventh inning against Manny Parra blew open what had been a close game, providing Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo an opportunity to maybe smooth some rough edges, and assuring Lee of his fourth victory.

Asked which he liked better, the barehander or the bomb, Asche answered quickly. "The barehander," he said. "Saved a run right there.

"I owed Cliff one."

The bunt was Cingrani's latest attempt to get on base. "I can't hit," he said, and given the limited number of swings he has taken over the last 5 years, that's understandable. But he's not giving up on the idea, and if Asche had tried to glove that ball, or flubbed it like he did those three Tuesday night, this game could have turned out differently, like it did Tuesday night.

That game triggered that 23-inning scoreless streak. Asche's bat might have triggered the last 2 days of vintage Phillies offense, balls slicing inside the chalk lines, over infielders' heads, over walls.

"I think good at-bats are contagious," Asche said. "Up and down the lineup, I think you saw it the last 2 days, guys are putting together really good at-bats.

"I think you saw in the last 2 days what can happen when we put together all three phases of the game. Pitching and defense and our offense."

Yeah. And you also saw what can happen when "a high-character kid who cares" starts to play like he belongs.


Email: donnels@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @samdonnellon

Columns: ph.ly/Donnellon

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