Clearwater, Fla. -- The game was still in progress, but Cody Asche was standing in the Phillies clubhouse in street clothes, his right hand wrapped in a bandage, his left hand clutching an ice pack.
"Scared," the third baseman said of his reaction when a fastball from the erratic left arm of Yao-Hsun Yang slammed into his right hand with a loud thwack in the fifth inning of yesterday's Grapefruit League loss to the Pirates.
His manager felt the same way.
"He got hit pretty good," Ryne Sandberg said.
As head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan examined Asche's hand, bench coach Larry Bowa shook his head in disgust and walked into the dugout.
There was plenty of relief, then, when an ultrasound scan came back clean of any fracture.
"It should be all right," Asche said.
Third base is one of the biggest unknowns in the Phillies' offense this season. Last year, they saw league-average offensive production out of the position, with veteran Michael Young hitting .276/.336/.395 with eight home runs in 512 plate appearances. Asche took over for Young as the everyday player at the position in August and showed some promise, hitting .271/.338/.457 with five home runs in his first 142 plate appearances before ending the year in a 2-week swoon. A fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Nebraska, the 23-year-old rose quickly through the Phillies system, hitting .295/.352/.485 with 15 home runs in 446 plate appearances at Triple A Lehigh Valley last season before his promotion.
Asche is 0-for-9 with a pair of strikeouts this spring. Maikel Franco is 1-for-7 with a pair of walks. None of those facts means much of anything at this point. While Sandberg has been careful not to eliminate the energy of competition at any position, Asche seems a near lock to enter the season as the Phillies' starting third baseman. The Phillies have considered Franco a potential future star at the position ever since he entered their system out of the Dominican Republic back in 2010. Last year was when the rest of the country began to take notice as the righthanded slugger hit .320 with a .356 on-base percentage and .569 slugging percentage and 31 home runs while splitting the season between high-Class A Clearwater and Double A Reading.
Still, Franco is only 21. Asche is more polished at the plate, on defense and on the basepaths. The Phillies feel he showed enough last season to warrant a chance to establish himself as their everyday starter this season. While Franco will get plenty of looks early on in camp, Freddy Galvis will likely enter the season as the primary defensive replacement, with Kevin Frandsen as a potential offensive replacement against lefties. Frandsen hit .311/.409/.459 with three home runs in 88 plate appearances against lefties last season. For his career, he is a .289/.343/.435 hitter against southpaws.
Although Frandsen made just four starts at third base last year, he started 49 games there for the Phillies in 2012. Galvis is a far better defender, making him the likely choice for a long-term fill-in role, but he is a career .230/.269/.375 hitter, including .257/.288/.425 from the right side of the plate.
The presence of Frandsen and backup centerfielder John Mayberry Jr., both of whom signed guaranteed contracts in the offseason, complicates the outlook for players like Darin Ruf and Cesar Hernandez, a duo that can make a strong case for offensive superiority over the Frandsen/Mayberry combo. Hernandez hit .289/.344/.331 in 131 plate appearances last season while attempting to transition from second base to centerfield. The Phillies could decide to allow him to continue to work on that transition in the minors. Ruf, on the other hand, hit .247/.348/.458 with 14 home runs in 293 plate appearances last season. He does not, however, play centerfield or third base.
Then again, the bullet that Asche and the Phillies hope they dodged yesterday did serve as a reminder of how fast things can change in spring training.
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