Alec Asher's Major League debut at the end of 2015 was about as rough as it gets for a pitcher. The righthander made seven starts for the Phillies last season, posting an 0-6 record with a 9.31 ERA and lasting past the fifth inning just once.
Fortunately for the organization, the 24-year-old has clearly refused to allow one bad experience rattle him. Back in the minors, Asher is 4-2 with a 2.30 ERA through eight starts in 2016. And since being re-called to Triple A, he's been particularly dominant, going 3-0 with five earned runs allowed in four starts. After a hot start at Triple A, Asher hit a slight roadbump. He was placed on the DL with a lower calf contusion, retroactive to May 18.
"He's been pretty money so far," Lehigh Valley catcher Andrew Knapp said. "I didn't catch him at all last year, caught him a couple times in spring training, but since he's gotten here, he's been lights out."
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That's an understatement. In his most recent outing, a no decision in which he allowed four runs over seven frames on Tuesday, Asher actually carried a perfect game through six.
Right now, he's in control of his full arsenal of pitches, and back to making Triple A look easy.
"He's been able to throw his fastball both sides of the plate and command all four pitches," Knapp said. "Fastball, curveball, slider, changeup — when you have all four pitches working, it's pretty easy to go out and dominate.
"Hopefully we can keep him there and just continue to do what he's been doing."
We've seen Asher deal at this level before. Acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade last July, the 2012 fourth-round draft pick went 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in four starts at Lehigh Valley before his promotion to the Phillies.
Asher didn't return and simply fall back on what got him that far, either. He's since learned to throw a sinking fastball, a pitch that's helping him keep the ball down and inside the ballpark.
That was an issue in 2015, both in the minors and in the big leagues. Asher was tagged for eight home runs in seven starts with the Phillies. He surrendered another 22 bombs in 24 appearances in the minors, or 1.5 per nine innings.
So far this season, Asher has allowed five homers in eight starts, or 0.8 per nine innings — nearly half last year's rate.
With Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Mark Appel also pitching well at Triple A, not to mention few openings in the Phillies' vastly improved rotation for the foreseeable future, there's no rush to get Asher back to the majors. Then again, he's been as tough to hit as any of the organization's prospects. This is perhaps the best he's looked at any point in his young career.
Asher is showing he's got the stuff, and why another shot at the big leagues will come eventually.