MIAMI — Alec Asher will get a second chance to make a first impression on Thursday night.
The 24-year-old right-hander will become the 10th pitcher to start a game for the Phillies this season when he gets the ball in Washington against the NL East-leading Nationals.
Asher was one of five prospects that the Phillies acquired from Texas for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman last summer.
Asher’s time in the Phillies organization hasn’t exactly been storybook. He came to the majors late last season and went 0-6 with a 9.31 ERA in seven starts. He was bruised for 42 hits and 30 runs in 29 innings.
Asher got off to an excellent start in the minors this season only to have his season ignominiously interrupted by a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug. That cost him 80 games. His suspension ended on Tuesday. The Phillies’ rotation has been thinned by injuries to Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin and the workload-based shutdown of Vince Velasquez. For Phillies officials looking to manage a 40-man roster, Asher became a convenient addition to the staff because he was already on the roster.
So Asher gets a second chance — on two levels.
“I’m looking forward to seeing him,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
Specifically, Mackanin is eager to see if the improvements that Asher made early in the minor-league season have made him a different pitcher than the one the Phillies saw late last season.
Asher opened this season with a 3.38 ERA in five starts at Double A Reading. He moved to Triple A Lehigh Valley and pitched brilliantly. He recorded a 1.53 ERA in five starts and gave up just 15 hits in 29 1/3 innings. He struck out 19 and walked just three over that span.
Asher’s improvement was credited to the addition of a two-seam fastball, or sinker. The movement on the pitch can result in ground balls and weaker, off-the-barrel contact — if thrown effectively.
“It’s interesting he didn’t have one before this year,” Mackanin said. “What we saw last year was a guy with a good arm but the fastball was straight. No life on his fastball. No movement. He needed to get something. I think we’ve all heard it enough that you can throw it as hard as you want, but if the ball is straight as an arrow, it’s not effective.”
Asher was able to pitch in the minor leagues over the last couple of weeks of his suspension. He pitched three times in the Gulf Coast League and once in Double A, so he’s stretched out. And he's got a fresh arm, something the Phils could use.
The Phillies will play a four-game series in Washington. Their first three starting pitchers — Asher, Jake Thompson and Jerad Eickhoff — all came over in the Hamels trade. A fourth player, catcher Jorge Alfaro, is expected to join the big club when Reading’s playoff run ends. Outfielder Nick Williams, another prospect in the deal, is currently playing in the International League playoffs.
The Phillies also acquired veteran pitcher Matt Harrison in the deal, but his career is likely over because of a back injury. Harrison is signed through next season at $13 million, but insurance will allow the Phils to recoup a significant portion of that salary.