Phillies' Asche trying to smooth out an up-and-down season

Posted: August 18, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO - In his first full big-league season, Cody Asche has endured his share of hot and cold stretches.

He was in one of the former 3 weeks ago when the San Francisco Giants were in Philadelphia for a four-game series. Entering July 23, Asche had hit safely in 11 of 14 games . . . but he was still held out of the starting lineup against All-Star lefthander Madison Bumgarner.

Three weeks later, Asche has come into AT&T Park in the midst of a dry spell at the plate: 2-for-26 in an eight-game stretch. But manager Ryne Sandberg gave the 24-year-old third baseman a vote of confidence by starting him last night against Bumgarner and the Giants.

"We'll see what I can do," an upbeat Asche said yesterday afternoon.

A little more than a year removed from his major league debut, Asche has managed to keep a healthy temperament, despite numbers that don't jump off the stat sheet. He entered play yesterday hitting .242 (24th among 29 major league third baseman, minimum 300 plate appearances), with a .664 OPS (27th) and 24 extra-base hits (only the Angels' David Freese has fewer).

Since debuting July 30, 2013, Asche has hit .239 with 12 home runs, 59 RBI, a .297 OBP and a .673 OPS.

"I think there's still a lot of room for improvement," Asche said when asked to summarize his first 12 months as a big-leaguer. "I think that's the key for me, to stay hungry. What I've done, it's just scratching the surface of what I believe I can do. I think there's still a lot of improvement that can be made in my game."

The answer, Asche said, is finding some stability in a game in which it can be difficult to avoid being unstable through the course of a long and grueling 162-game, 6-month schedule.

"There are things I can do on the baseball field to help the team win. I just have to learn get it all out and consistently be there," Asche said. "I think that's a big part of it - you can do it for a series, do it for a week, of even most of a month. But it's trying to eliminate the major ups and downs. There are going to be peaks and valleys, but you can get high and then go back down to the ground for a long time . . . I think that's also a part of being a guy with a ton of experience."

At least from a statistical standpoint, Asche has had to play catchup from the get-go in 2014. He was hitting .196 through his first 17 games. He hit .250 in the 71 games since, entering yesterday.

Asche began to break out at the plate at the tail end of the season's first month; he hit .301 with a .901 OPS, three home runs and six doubles over a 22-game stretch between April 24 and May 22. But then he had a monthlong stay on the disabled list for a hamstring injury and has battled through minislumps in the 2 months since.

"There's a lot that goes into being a good hitter in this league - a ton," Asche said. "Learning pitchers, knowing what to do, seeing pitchers. Not letting stuff compile, grouping too many together. Not trying to outthink or outsmart yourself. There are so many fine lines. Not overthinking, not preparing. Once you learn who you are as a player, it gets easier I think. You're still learning. I can go on 10-game stretches where I look like a world beater and then 10-game stretches where it's what-the-[bleep] is going on?"

"Day to day, he tries to find what approach he wants," Sandberg said. "He's still searching for that a bit on a day-to-day basis, who's pitching that day. So in some regards, he makes adjustments throughout a game and other regards, pitcher to pitcher, just making the change against certain guys, so he's been a little overthink."

Sandberg knows the challenges that come with being a young player. In 1982, his first full big-league season, Sandberg was hitting .237 through his first 2 months but ended up finishing the season at .271.

Sandberg knows more experience will only help the third baseman develop into the player he thinks he can be. Sending him up against Bumgarner is a part of that development.

"He has hung in there against lefthanded pitchers," Sandberg said of Asche, who has hit .276 with a .333 OBP in 64 plate appearances against lefthanders this season. "He's had some good numbers against lefties with that same approach of working up the middle and left-centerfield. He tends to apply that against the lefthanded pitcher."

Asche has had the opportunity to get a long look at third base this season in part because Maikel Franco, the organization's top hitting prospect, has struggled for much of 2014 at Triple A Lehigh Valley. Franco, who turns 22 later this month, is batting .245 with a .683 OPS and 11 home runs in 115 games with the IronPigs this season.

Phillers

John Mayberry Jr., placed on the DL with left wrist inflammation on July 22, doesn't appear to be on the cusp of returning, despite taking batting practice with the team throughout the road trip. "Kind of a holding pattern," Ryne Sandberg said. Mayberry has experienced soreness in the days after he's stepped up activity in the last week, Sandberg said . . . Ken Giles entered the day with 37 strikeouts in his first 25 innings this season. It's the most strikeouts in Phillies franchise history for a pitcher over the course of his first 25 innings of a season. Billy Wagner struck out 36 in his first 25 innings of 2004 . . . Kyle Kendrick (5-11, 4.88 ERA) pitches opposite fellow righthander Tim Hudson (8-9, 2.81) this afternoon (4:05 p.m., CSN). Kendrick has a 6.20 ERA over his last 10 starts.


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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