The latest in the line of Phillies rookie starters to make his major-league debut took the mound Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. This was Alec Asher's turn, as it had been Jerad Eickhoff's nine days earlier, Aaron Nola's in July, and Adam Morgan's in June.
Asher, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound righthander who began the season in double A, did not fare as well as his rookie rotation mates had, as the Phillies suffered a 9-4 loss to the San Diego Padres. Asher, whom the Phillies acquired from the Texas Rangers in last month's blockbuster Cole Hamels trade, allowed four runs - three on home runs - over 52/3 innings before the team's beleaguered bullpen surrendered five more.
Two Padres veterans made Asher, 23, pay on errantly placed fastballs. Matt Kemp welcomed Asher to the big leagues in the first inning, lining the hurler's 10th pitch, a heater down and inside, over the left-field fence. Two innings later, Justin Upton put a 2-0 pitch over the left-center field wall.
Asher recovered to put up zeros the next two innings before running into trouble in the sixth. He exited to applause after 93 pitches, the last of which opposing starter James Shields poked into center field for a run-scoring single.
"I thought I was all right. I made a couple of bad pitches that I had to pay for," Asher said. "But I mean, I wouldn't take back the experience. It was great. You obviously want to win. But you just take what happened and you build on it."
Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin came away with positive reviews after his first look at Asher.
"I liked his stuff. I liked his approach," said Mackanin, whose team traveled to New York after the game for a series beginning Monday against the first-place Mets.
"He got behind too often. He left the ball up in the zone a little bit too often. So it's understandable when a guy's in his first major-league appearance in front of the home [crowd]."
The bigger culprits were the team's bullpen and its too-little, too-late offense. Shields, the Padres' $75 million righthander, held the Phillies to just one run and six hits in seven innings. He struck out eight Phillies for the second time this month.
The Phillies mustered three late runs - two in the eighth and one in the ninth - but by that point the bullpen's shortcomings had put the game out of reach. Adam Loewen failed to record an out despite throwing 28 pitches in the eighth and was charged with three runs. Hector Neris allowed a run in the seventh and Justin De Fratus gave up another in the ninth.
Asher admitted he had nerves early, but he said he settled in as the game wore on. Asked what he learned, he said, "Don't miss your spots."
A memorable moment for the Lakeland, Fla., native and his family came in the third inning, when his father, Bob, announced his name over the public-address system before his first plate appearance. Bob used to announce games in Lakeland at the site of the Detroit Tigers' high-A affiliate.
"I didn't realize it until after it happened," Asher said. "I got in the box and I looked up and I just saw his face [on Phanavision]. I'm like, 'Why is he on the big screen?' But it made sense after it happened."
Asher was the rebuilding team's fifth rookie starting pitcher to debut in 2015, setting a franchise record for a single Phillies season. He accompanied a fastball ranging from 91 to 93 m.p.h. with a slider and change-up. His outing reminded Mackanin of Eickhoff's last start, in which Eickhoff allowed three runs in the first inning and then settled down.
"That's a good sign for these young guys," Mackanin said, "and that's what I really liked about Asher today."