Friday, September 9, 2016

Asher Puts Suspension Behind Him Against Nationals

GAME RECAP: Phillies Nab Nationals 4-1

Right-hander Alec Asher, making his first start of the season for the Phillies, proved to be too much for the Nationals as Philadelphia won the series opener, 4-1, at Nationals Park on Thursday night in Asher's first big league win. Washington's magic number remains at 15 to win the National League East. The second-place Mets had the day off on Thursday. The Phillies also snapped a nine-game losing streak against the Nationals. Asher's counterpart, A.J. Cole, pitched five innings and allowed four runs on five hits. All four runs were scored in the third inning, on homers by Peter Bourjos and Ryan Howard. "Cole wasn't bad at all," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It was the three-run homer [from Howard] that did him and us in. Cole was pretty good, actually. The one homer [by Bourjos] hit the foul pole. The other one scraped the wall." Said Cole: "Howard hit a good pitch. At the same time, if I'm going to throw that changeup, I [should] throw it in the ground." Asher, who pitched six shutout innings, retired six of the first seven hitters he faced. The only time the Nationals had runners in scoring position against the right-hander was in the third inning. Washington had runners on first and second with two outs, but Daniel Murphy flied out to left field to end the threat. "He showed makeup," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said about Asher. "Last year he looked like he was a little nervous most of the time and got rocked around. It was good to see him confident." Washington would finally put a run on a board in the eighth inning off reliever Hector Neris. With the bases loaded, Murphy hit a sacrifice fly to left fielder Aaron Altherr, scoring Stephen Drew.

  • Asher returned from an 80-game suspension earlier this week after testing positive for oral turinabol, dazzling in his season debut. He allowed just two hits and one walk in six scoreless innings. Asher is the first of three pitchers the Phillies acquired in July 2015 in the Cole Hamels trade who will face the Nationals this weekend. Jake Thompson starts Friday night and Jerad Eickhoff starts Saturday night. "I just said that I was going to go out there and have fun," Asher said. "I felt like I wasn't myself at the end of last year and let the moment get to me. I was going to go back to being me. It definitely worked and I'm looking to build on it."
  • Howard's three-run home run to center field handed the Phillies a 4-0 lead. It was the 378th homer of Howard's career, which ties him with Matt Williams for 72nd place on the all-time home run list. Next up are Hall of Famers Tony Perez and Orlando Cepeda, who each hit 379 homers. "Howie came up with that big three-run home run," Mackanin said. "That's [about] all we had offensively, but it was obviously enough."
  • "Someone asked me last year, a legitimate question after he was getting rocked around so much, 'Do you think it was a good idea to call him up?' And I said, 'Yes it is, because when he goes back down, he's going to understand what he's up against and let's see what kind of makeup he's got, if he's going to fight and battle back.' And sure enough, he went out there tonight and looked very confident. He felt like he was in control. He got away with a few line drives here and there, but nevertheless he threw strikes and only gave up two hits. I'm really proud of him for that." -- Mackanin, on Asher.
Thompson hopes to keep the good times rolling on Friday at 7:05 p.m. ET at Nationals Park. He went 1-3 with a 9.78 ERA in his first four starts, unable to pitch past the fifth inning in any of those starts. But Thompson is 0-2 with a 1.93 ERA in his last two starts, pitching seven innings in both.


Asher Returns – Does Alec Asher have more of this in him? It is just one start, but his season debut Thursday in a 4-1 victory over the Nationals at Nationals Park had to intrigue a few people in the Phillies' organization. Asher allowed just two hits and one walk in six scoreless innings, throwing a mere 75 pitches (55 strikes). It snapped the Phillies' nine-game losing streak against the Nationals. Asher's teammates commemorated his first big league win by taking him into the Phillies' shower fully clothed and dumping beer on him. "I just said that I was going to go out there and have fun," Asher said. "I felt like I wasn't myself at the end of last year and let the moment get to me. I was going to go back to being me. It definitely worked, and I'm looking to build on it." Asher went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts late last season with the Phillies, who acquired him in July 2015 in the Cole Hamels trade with the Rangers. Asher knew he would not last long with performances like that, so he worked on a two-seam fastball in the offseason. It helped. He went 1-2 with a 3.20 ERA in four starts this season with Double-A Reading before being promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, for which he went 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA in four starts. Everything looked great until Major League Baseball suspended Asher 80 games for testing positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone (DHCMT), which is an anabolic steroid designed by East Germany in the 1960s. The steroid is better known as oral turinabol. Former teammate and Rule 5 Draft pick Daniel Stumpf also tested positive for DHCMT this year. Both have maintained their innocence, saying they have absolutely no idea how the easily detectable steroid entered their systems. "We're all in the same boat," Asher said about himself and four other players that tested positive this year for DHCMT. "We're all looking for a resolution on what had happened. But that's all I got for you." Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he isn't interested in Asher's explanation about his PED suspension. "I don't even want to talk to him about it," Mackanin said. "As far as I'm concerned, it's water under the bridge and let's just put it behind us." Asher figures to make four more starts before the end of the season. If he pitches well, he could put himself in good position to make the 2017 rotation out of Spring Training. But there should be plenty of competition. If everybody is healthy -- that is always a big "if" -- the group of starters in camp should include Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Adam Morgan, Asher and probably a veteran starter or two. "If he pitches like he did tonight, he's definitely in the conversation," Mackanin said. "It was noticeable to me, just his demeanor on the mound. It looked like he was confident from the start. He threw strikes. He wasn't pitching away from contact. That's huge. For him to go through what he's gone through and develop a new pitch over the winter and to come out against a real good hitting team, a first-place team, speaks volumes."

Nagging Injuries – Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco is day to day with a sore right thumb. Franco could be back in the starting lineup as early as Friday against the Nationals at Nationals Park, although he could pinch-hit in Thursday's series opener. Franco took ground balls, and he planned to hit in the batting cage Thursday. Franco jammed the thumb Sunday against the Braves in Philadelphia, but he played Monday and Tuesday in Miami. He went 0-for-8 in those games to drop his batting average to .246 and his OPS to .721.

Today In Phils History – George Davis of the Braves no hit the Phillies in the second game of a double header on this day in 1914. Jimmie Foxx hit the final of his 534 career homeruns in 1945. The Phillies struck out 26 times in a double header against the Mets in 1970 with Nolan Ryan adding 13 to his career tally in game 1. In the 2nd game of that double header, Greg ‘The Bull” Luzinski made his MLB debut as a pinch hitter and unceremoniously struck out (he was the Phillies 1st player born in the 1950’s. 2003 saw the Phillies hammer the Braves 18-5 with both Tomas Perez and Jason Michaels each hitting the 1st grand slam of their career. The following season Jimmy Rollins hit a leadoff inside the park homerun which was his 4th homerun to begin a game that season tying the franchise record. In that same game, Jason Michaels bobbled a ball so badly that he forced the ball over the fence for a homerun which was soon forgotten with 5 homeruns and a Phillies win. Other debuts on this day include Jeff Stone (1983) and Nick Punto (2001). Finally, happy birthday to Hugh Mulcahy (1913), Ron Stone (1942), and Todd Zeile (1965).   

The Phillies are currently 63-77 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. All time, the Phillies are 54-42-1 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record.

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