ARLINGTON, Texas — It took more than a decade after Scott Rolen's departure for the Phillies to breed their next homegrown third baseman, and that made Cody Asche's opening day a significant one before he even stepped to the plate at Globe Life Park.
Rolen, the former franchise cornerstone, started six straight opening days from 1997-2002. Next came David Bell, then Abraham Nunez, Wes Helms, Pedro Feliz, Placido Polanco and, finally, Michael Young.
Asche, 23, joked during the spring he would not assume he was the starter — even though no competition remained — until he saw his name on the lineup card in Texas. He is viewed by some as a steward at the position for the organization's top prospect, 21-year-old Maikel Franco, who will begin 2014 at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
All of a sudden, the Phillies have a young logjam at third base. There are worse problems.
Asche reached base four times Monday and scored four runs. He was in the middle of every big Phillies inning. The list of Phillies third basemen with four-run games in the last 48 years is Asche, Rolen and a guy named Mike Schmidt.
"I would compare it a little bit to that first day in the big leagues," Asche said. "This is a new experience I have never had before. I didn't really know what to expect. A lot of jitters and excitement, which is always good."
Until Asche, no Phillies player since at least 1932 (when records are reliable) scored four runs on opening day. The last Phillie to do it in any game was Hunter Pence on Aug. 22, 2011. Asche, a veteran of 51 major-league games, is still an unknown commodity.
The former fourth-round pick breezed through the upper levels of the minors. He was thrown into an everyday job one month after his 23d birthday. That trial provided glimpses of Asche's work ethic, but also the shortcomings of a young player.
The Phillies believe enough in Asche to at least tinker with the plan for Franco, who added a new position — first base — at the conclusion of 2013. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Franco will play "mostly" third base at triple A. "He'll play some first to make sure he can handle both positions," Amaro said, but he could not say what percentage of Franco's time will be spent there.
Franco played just 69 games at double-A Reading, and the team thought about sending him there to start 2014, but that discussion did not linger.
"He handled himself really, really well," Amaro said. "He's very mature. I think he got a little excited in trying to impress. But he should. He's 21 years old. He should be excited. I think he handled himself really well. He's going to be a big major-league player at some point.
"He got a little bit aggressive. But I don't want to take his aggressiveness from him. I'm looking forward to seeing how he does at a new level. It's a good test for him."
So is the challenge presented to Asche, who can quell any Franco talk with more days just half as good as Monday.
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