Cliff Lee stifles Mets in Phillies' 2-1 win
NEW YORK - Ryne Sandberg went to 10 All-Star Games and won nine Gold Gloves as a second baseman. But Sandberg made his first 128 major league starts at third base, and thus has some working knowledge of what it's like to be a young player at an infield position that can be unforgiving if you're unprepared.
Sandberg has repeatedly raved about rookie Cody Asche.
"He's the full package down there at third base," said the Hall of Fame player-turned-manager.
Asche has dazzled with his glove for a month. His bat is catching up, too.
Last night at Citi Field, Asche made his 21st major league start at third base and fueled the Phillies' offense in a 2-1 victory over the New York Mets.
Asche, a Lehigh Valley IronPig a month ago, hit a two-out, two-run triple off Mets starter Zach Wheeler (6-3) in the fourth inning to turn a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead. Asche finished the night 2-for-3 with a walk. He has hit safely in eight straight games.
"He's really comfortable in his whole game," Sandberg said of Asche, whose batting average has jumped from .193 to .253 in the last week. "With his approach and his line-drive stroke that he naturally has, I think he's really relaxed and really starting to show that. He's got a good chance to hit the ball every time. His bat stays in the zone so long, has a line-drive stroke. When he's hitting the ball to left-center like he did on the first one, that's a really good sign that he's locked in."
After Asche's go-ahead triple, Cliff Lee did the rest, holding the Mets to two singles in his final five innings as the Phillies won for the seventh time in their last nine games. It's the first time the Phillies have won back-to-back Lee starts in more than 2 months (June 13-18).
"We're grinding it out a little more - playing hard from the start to finish," said Lee (11-6). "Just execution. I've said that from the beginning. If we play fundamental baseball, we can beat anyone, and we've started doing that in the last week-and-a-half or so."
Lee held the Mets to one run on five hits while striking out seven and walking one in eight innings.
Lee pumped his left fist after his 121st pitch of the night resulted in a strikeout of Juan Lagares with two on and two out in the eighth. Jonathan Papelbon retired all three batters he faced in the ninth to finish off Lee's victory.
Last night's win was just the 15th for the Phillies this season when they scored fewer than four runs. But Lee and Papelbon made Asche's biggest hit in a Phillies uniform stand up.
Asche joined the team July 30. He went 1-for-17 in his first six major league games.
But since breaking out of that spell, Asche is hitting .303 (20-for-66) with nine extra-base hits and 13 RBI in 19 games.
"It's just baseball," Asche said. "Adjustments are going to have to be made, no matter what kind of hitter you are, or who you are. Miguel Cabrera probably still has to make adjustments, too. It's just baseball, learning from your mistakes and trying not to make the same ones twice."
So Asche's goal is to become Miguel Cabrera? "To be the best hitter?" Asche said. "Yeah."
Asche, who hit .295 with 15 home runs in 104 games at Triple A Lehigh Valley before his promotion, has three consecutive multihit games.
"He's getting more comfortable," Lee said. "His skills are starting to show. He's starting to play more comfortably. I know his first week or so he looked a little tense, which is kind of normal. He's put that behind him and now he's being a solid player. I think that's what everyone expects out of him. He plays the right way. I see him being here a while."
Asche would just like to be in the same spot when the 2014 season opens.
After finishing out a second straight season that ends with the team on the outside looking in come playoff time, the Phillies will undoubtedly be looking to upgrade the roster this winter. Third base has been a trouble spot for finding a capable, long-term solution - one that offers both offense and defense - for a decade.
Maikel Franco, the Phillies' top hitting prospect who celebrated his 21st birthday yesterday, hit his 30th home run of the season last night for Double A Reading. The Phils began experimenting with playing Franco at first base last week, although he is expected to come to spring training to compete for the third-base job in February.
Asche, meanwhile, can make the most of what amounts to his own major league tryout at the same position in the final month of the Phillies' season.
"In a lot of ways, that's what this month is for," Sandberg said. "He's rising to the occasion."
Domonic Brown was out of the lineup for the second straight game with right Achilles' soreness. He remains day-to-day . . . GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said the Phillies have had internal discussions about righthander Edinson Volquez, 30, who was released by the Padres on Sunday.