"Time is on his side," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said following Monday's 6-1 loss to the Rays at Charlotte Sports Park. "We'll be patient. From yesterday to today, the improvement was pretty unbelievable. He was black and blue last night. Today there was nothing there. That's a good thing."
It sounded much worse when the ball struck, so bad it scared Asche and the Phillies. But he took a few swings in the batting cage Monday morning at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., which is good news. Much of the 2014 season is predicated on the Phillies staying healthy.
But Asche's scare was a good reminder of the importance of the Phillies' infield depth. Everybody knows Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins will play first base, second base and shortstop, respectively. Asche has the inside track at third, although he is not considered a lock, only because he has played just 50 games in the big leagues, 43 in the hot corner. Maikel Franco could make things interesting.
But the Phillies will need more than the four everyday infielders. They have carried two utility infielders in the past, and it seems safe to say they will carry two again.
Sandberg has been effusive in his praise of Freddy Galvis, who left Monday's game in the fourth inning for precautionary reasons after he tweaked his right ankle sliding into third base. In fact, the manager has not hesitated when asked about which player has the edge for a utility infield job.
"I give Freddy Galvis a little nod because of his ability to play short and second base and third base, left field and what he does defensively," he said in January. "Once we get rolling, I could see him playing twice a week and giving some guys some blows. I think that is a part of keeping the veteran guys healthy. I think he's a vital piece off the bench."
Kevin Frandsen is the front-runner for the other bench job. He signed a guaranteed $900,000 contract, which automatically gives him an edge over the competition. He has hit .280 overall the past two seasons, including .353 against left-handers. He also led the big leagues with 14 pinch-hits last season.
But Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said Monday that there are no front-runners or favorites in this competition. That could be GM speak, but coming off an 89-loss season, the Phillies need players who will perform.
"Nobody has anything locked down right now," he said. "Nope, not for me. I think we're a better team with Freddy on it. And Kevin did a nice job off the bench for us last year, but none of those guys are locked in. We have four or five guys. We have to figure it out."
"We're still looking at guys," Sandberg added.
The Phillies have veterans Ronny Cedeno, Reid Brignac and Andres Blanco in camp. Cedeno has impressed folks this spring with his glove and versatility, but he was a late scratch Monday because of tightness in his lower back. He said it is not serious.
Cesar Hernandez seems likely to open the season in Triple-A, although the Phillies are trying to make him more versatile by having him work out at shortstop and third base. He has been primarily a second baseman in the Minor Leagues, although he has played some center field.
"We like the fact we have some veteran guys," Amaro said. "Obviously Freddy's versatility, Cedeno's versatility and experience, Brignac's versatility and experience. Frandsen's got experience. His best asset is his bat off the bench. [Darin] Ruf is limited to first base, but he's going to be a good option if we have some breakdowns."
If Ruf makes the team, it seems it would be as an outfielder who can play first base, rather than being considered an infielder. But there are plenty of moving parts in camp. For example, if Tony Gwynn edges out John Mayberry Jr. for an outfield job, can they also carry Bobby Abreu? That would give the Phillies two left-handed-hitting outfielders on the bench.
"It's got to be a combination of being able to catch the ball and being reliable," Amaro said of the utility infield jobs. "If we have breakdowns in the middle of the field, we'll need guys who can fill in on an everyday basis. We have some older guys there, so we need to give them a break. We have to be able to play guys who we know can be reliable defensively."
The Phillies have a little less than four weeks to finalize these decisions with Opening Day on March 31.