By Bill Campbell
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Cody Asche is back in the news these days. His Mom took him to a baseball game a few days ago after picking him up at the airport in his hometown, St. Louis. He had flown there with the Phillies. For Asche that day would stay in his memory: later he was able to take to the field for the first time as a professional baseball player. A native son was able to enjoy a rare moment in the city where his love for the game was born. Before the St. Louis trip, Asche had been on the disabled list for nearly a month due to a hamstring strain. Prior to his debut in St. Louis, he said he was fully recovered but was still waiting for the Phils to make his return official. He certainly looked ready to come back since his injury sidelined him, having hit 5 home runs, 2 doubles and drawing 4 walks on 18 at bats before that hamstring sprain. Now he’s back to replace Reid Brignac who’s on the DL with a left ankle sprain. The Phillies hope that Asche can pick up where he left off after a difficult April that dropped his batting average from 285 at the month’s start to 256 at its end. As for being back in St. Louis, Asche said he was in his comfort zone at Busch Stadium where baseball has a devout following. He recalled his father taking him to see Albert Pujols when he was a just rookie. “I would come two or three times a year because Pujols was my favorite player,” Asche said. He knows how to pick the best players to watch, for sure. Let’s hope he’s back on track.
With backup catcher Will Nieves hurting, the Phillies recalled Cameron Rupp from Triple A Lehigh Valley. Cliff Lee is still recovering from his left elbow strain and both Lee and the team are anxious for his return. A word on Aaron Altherr is due as well. About ten days ago he sat in the Reading Fightin’ Phils clubhouse, glued to the TV, watching Ken Giles walk from the bullpen to the pitcher’s mound for the first time in the majors. Altherr, batting .392 at Reading in June, could taste what Giles was experiencing and was hoping for his own opportunity. Last Monday he too was called up to the Phillies to make his own debut that night. True, he flew out as a pinch hitter in the 12th inning of a 6-1 victory over Atlanta. But even with a pop fly he had that first moment under his belt. Altherr was sent back to Reading later in the week when Rupp was recalled but he hopes to return soon. Last year, he went from Double AA in Lakewood to Single A in Clearwater where he hit .275 in his only full season, totaling 12 home runs and 69 RBIs. He has credited all of the coaches at Lakewood, Clearwater and Reading for his increasing consistency. He also recalled the boost he got in November of last year when the Phillies placed him on their 40-man roster, protecting him from the Rule 5 draft. “It was the greatest feeling ever,” Altherr said. “That told me that they were looking at me to be in the major leagues for them. It was an honor to be put on that 40-man roster.” We’ll be hearing more about Aaron Altherr.
The Phillies are playing better at the moment and the bats are starting to connect on a more consistent basis. When Ryan Howard is hitting like he is now, the Phillies are a tougher team to beat. Look at that sweep of the Atlanta Braves last week. In his last 15 games away from Philadelphia, Howard hit .350 with three homers and 14 RBIs. He stayed hot in St. Louis, his home town, starting the series there with a lifetime .368 average and a .512 on-base percentage, 9 home runs in 125 plate attempts. For June, Howard is hitting .281/.361/.484, racking up 4 homers, 13 RBIS and 10 runs in 17 games. During last Thursday’s game against the Cardinals, he went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs in the Phillies’ win, their fourth straight. Rookie right-hander, David Buchanan, pitched for 7 2/3 innings that night, throwing 105 pitches and keeping the Cards scoreless until the eighth inning. He allowed four hits and a walk, striking out four. Jonathan Papelbon came in to close it and got his 17th save of the season. Buchanan has become one of the more impressive rookie pitchers in the league over the first three months of the season.
Before the weekend, the Phillies were 4 games behind the Nationals who had been shut out by the Braves in a four-game series in the N.L. East earlier in the week. Prior to the start of their series against the Phils, St. Louis had won 8 of its last 10 games to pull within 4 of the first place Brewers in the NL Central. After a successful road trip against Chicago and Atlanta, the Phils took the first two from the Cardinals (4-1, 5-1). However, they lost the last two (4-1, 5-3) and remain last in the NL East with a 34-40 record. Yet they are just five games behind the division-leading Nationals so all is not lost by any means. The Phils start a four-game home series against the Miami Marlins at this writing, to be followed by a quartet of games against the Atlanta Braves at Citizen’s Bank Park.
Last week I noted Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter at Dodger Stadium. But I have to revisit the story again since several writers have described it as one of the most memorable performances ever delivered by a pitcher. It was the first time in major league history that a pitcher struck out at least fifteen without allowing a hit, putting him at second behind Kerry Wood’s two-strikeout one-hitter for the Cubs in 1998. Winning the game, 8-0, Kershaw faced a Colorado Rockies lineup that was missing Nolan Arenado, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Gonzalez. But that didn’t make it any less special. Kershaw makes me think of the great Sandy Koufax, who recorded one fewer strikeout in his 1-0 perfect game in 1965 than Kershaw did last Wednesday. In that one, Koufax had faced three future Hall of Famers: Ernie Banks, Ron Santo and Billy Williams. Of course, Koufax was conditioned to throw nine innings. That perfect game was his 23rd complete game of 1965; Kershaw’s no-hitter was the 13th complete game of his seven-year career. Koufax pitched in another zone altogether. Age twenty-six, Kershaw has a big, bending curve which already has earned him two Cy Young Awards. You have to wonder about what he still has left in him.
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