READING, Pa. — The stat sheet says one thing, Cody Asche another.
“I’m close,” the Phillies’ once (and possibly future) leftfielder said after going hitless in four at-bats in a rehab assignment game for Double A Reading on Thursday morning. “I’m close, for sure.”
Asche, recovering from a strained left oblique muscle, is just 2 for 16 in four games at Reading, after going 3 for 18 in five games at Single A Clearwater.
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But not to worry, he said. There are just “a couple little things” he needs to shore up at the plate, things that have led to “not-so-favorable results,” before he is ready to return to the major leagues.
“But I’m confident,” he said. “They’re easy fixes.”
Asche, a little over a month away from his 26th birthday, said he feels healthy, that he just needs to get his timing back, just needs to face more “good quality pitching.”
Where he will get that opportunity is a matter of conjecture. Immediately after beating Erie, 7-4, in Thursday’s matinee, Reading headed to New Hampshire to begin a road trip. Asche was not expected to accompany the Fightin Phils. Meanwhile, Triple A Lehigh Valley begins a homestand Friday.
“I think the plan right now is maybe go up to Lehigh [Friday], but that’s still in the air,” Asche said, adding that he still must consult trainer Scott Sheridan, as well as his rehab coordinator, before a decision is finalized.
It’s not clear if the organization also believes Asche is close to returning to the big leagues. Manager Dusty Wathan was not available for comment after Thursday’s game.
Wathan did address Asche’s situation after he played his first game at Reading on Sunday.
“It’s like his spring training,” the manager told reporters. “He’s trying to get himself back, get himself comfortable in left field, get himself comfortable at the plate and back into baseball shape.”
Asche, the Phillies’ fourth-round pick in 2011, hit .252 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs in 121 games at third base in 2014. Last year he began the season at that position before making the transition to left, in the wake of Maikel Franco’s emergence. But when Franco broke a wrist late in the year, Asche returned to his natural position.
Overall he hit .245 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 129 games. Five of his homers came in his last 18 games.
“I came in to spring training as confident as anybody in myself, and building on last year and going forward this year,” he said.
But he injured his oblique (which is near the rib cage) while swinging a bat on the eve of spring drills. Then he rehabbed, returned and promptly reaggravated the injury while swinging through a pitch the final week of camp.
It only hurt when he did … well, everything.
“Imagine everything you do during the day, you feel pain in your abdomen,” he said. “Just small things, like sneezing and coughing, are uncomfortable. Getting in and out of cars.”
Nor was his anguish merely physical.
“We’d be here all day if I tried to explain how frustrating it is,” he said. “It’s been a long process. It’s been tiring. It’s been stressful. A lot of sleepless nights during it, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see it. I know I’m close. It’s just a matter of time, from here on out. Once it clicks, it will click, and I’ll be ready to go.”
Asche began swinging a bat on May 1, and started his rehab assignment at Clearwater on May 13. He made the move to Reading nine days later.
“I’m kind of over the frustration part,” he said. “I had eight weeks to be frustrated while I was rehabbing. Right now I’m just solely focused on playing baseball, and preparing myself to go up there and compete when it’s my time.”
The Phillies could use him, to add punch to the anemic corner outfield spots. And he believes he can help.
“There’s still plenty of time,” he said. “We’ve still got a long season left. It’s not even June yet. I’ve got plenty of time to leave my mark on this year.”