4/24/2014 11:00 P.M. ET
Phils seek reliable bridge to Papelbon
By Scott Miller / Special to MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- Another day, more bullpen discussions for the Phillies. They still can't find anybody to consistently pitch well in the sixth and seventh innings, and it bit them again in Wednesday's 5-2 loss.
"It's been talked about," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "It's been addressed. A number of guys have been given opportunities.
"That's been the case up to now. A lot of guys have had chances. We're trying to get the right combination. A lot of guys have had ups and downs."
Any reliever who comes out of the 'pen throwing strikes and mixing pitches as the club tries to get the ball to closer Jonathan Papelbon will become an instant hero to Sandberg, pitching coach Bob McClure and the rest of the Phillies.
The Phils' 5.64 bullpen ERA heading into Thursday was the worst in the Majors, just below the Tigers (5.63) and White Sox (5.47).
Hot corner is becoming a high-traffic area
LOS ANGELES -- Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg spun the turnstile, and Cody Asche spit back out onto the lineup card for Thursday night's series finale at Dodger Stadium.
Making his first start at third base since Sunday, it was the latest opening for Asche to step forward and take charge at third. He also was the Phillies' third third baseman in three nights: Freddy Galvis started there Wednesday, and Jayson Nix was there Tuesday.
"Giving Jimmy [Rollins] a day off has something to do with it," said Sandberg, who slotted the switch-hitting Galvis in at shortstop as another matchup play in a lefty-heavy lineup against Dodgers right-hander Dan Haren.
Sandberg had planned on resting Rollins on Thursday, anyway, in his ongoing blueprint to make sure to get some of the old-guard Phillies their proper rest.
As for Asche, Sandberg has quietly spoken with him multiple times during the kid's early struggles and specifically advised him to keep his head up and keep working. Sandberg noted Asche had some "good pregames" in Denver over the weekend while working on hitting the ball to the middle of the field. Asche, who is tied for the club lead with two errors, also has been diligently tuning up his defense.
"I've talked to him and told him to be ready for his next opportunity and go from there," Sandberg said. "He's done his work."
For his part, Asche said part of his homework over his time out of the lineup over the past few days was mental as well as physical.
"Getting back to a routine of what's worked, what got me here and what's going to keep me here," said Asche, who took a .191 batting average and a .269 on-base percentage into Thursday night's game. "It's easy, as a young kid, to overreact to the times you don't succeed. And I think I got caught up in that."
So he's tried to step back and analyze what got him here, he said, and we'll see if that works over the next few games as he attempts to ignite his 2014 season.
"Having a good attitude every day, whether I'm in the lineup or out of it," he said. "Sticking to my routine in the cage and in batting practice. Doing my ground-ball work. My in-game approach.
"And, not trying to do too much. That's been a fault of mine. Knowing what you can do, and what your team needs you to do. Especially at the bottom of the lineup."
Phillies' third basemen had combined for some of the worst offensive numbers in the Majors entering Thursday night's game, ranking 29th in slugging percentage (.284) and OPS (.540), and tied with the Braves for last in the Majors in RBIs (4).
All systems go for Hamels
LOS ANGELES -- A day later, there appeared to be no setbacks for Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels as he opened his season with six innings and 86 pitches in Wednesday night's 5-2 loss to the Dodgers.
Hamels made it clear following the game that he could have pitched longer, saying he figured he could stick around for 100, 105 pitches. But Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies, despite ongoing bullpen troubles, wanted to take no chances.
The manager also had zero problems with Hamels wanting more.
"That's the right answer," Sandberg said, noting that he has five pitchers in his rotation who don't like being removed from games.
Part of his thinking, Sandberg said, was that 90 pitches on an injury-rehabilitation assignment in Clearwater, Fla., are far different in intensity from 90 pitches in April in Dodger Stadium.
"For me, I thought it was outstanding for his first outing," Sandberg said. "We're a better team with him, and to have him continue, a rehab guy with 12 to 15 pitches [more added] at the end of that with stress, I think for the betterment of the team and for him that was an outstanding outing for him."
Monday's off-day following the Phillies' current three-city, 10-game trip will give Hamels -- and others in the rotation -- an extra day between starts, which won't be a bad thing, either.
Hamels' fastball was sitting at 89, 90 mph during his rehab outings, but it was up to 93 mph here Wednesday. Sandberg attributes that both to Hamels' progression and to the adrenalin of a Major League start.
"He bounced back well," Sandberg said. "He feels good today. That's all good news."
• Ryan Howard took a five-game hitting streak into Thursday's series finale and had an .880 OPS during that time.
"I feel good," Howard said. "My body is staying together."
• Shortstop Jimmy Rollins took a scheduled day of rest, only the third game he's missed.
"A little mental break for Jimmy, as I've done with other guys," manager Ryne Sandberg said.
• Sandberg said Zack Greinke's sliders Wednesday night "were some of the best we've seen this year, or will see all year."
Scott Miller is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.