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September 08, 2016

Asher collects first MLB win in return from PED suspension

WASHINGTON – Before he took the mound on Thursday night in Washington, Alec Asher hadn’t been on a big league field in 342 days.

Asher started the penultimate game of the season on the Phillies 2015 schedule to put a wrap on an uninspiring five-week major league audition.

One of the five prospects the team received in the Cole Hamels, Asher had a 9.31 ERA in seven starts. He gave up 30 runs on 42 hits, walked 10, and served up eight home runs in 29 innings.

If those games weren’t already stuck in the heads of the Phillies coaching staff and the front office that returned in 2016, Asher didn’t help himself in starting anew in 2016 when he was tagged with an 80-game suspension in May for testing positive for dehydrochlormethyltestosterone, the same performance-enfacing drug that cost Rule 5 pick Daniel Stumpf the first half of the season.

But the Phillies need pitching this month (with Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin out with injuries and Vince Velasquez shut down for workload) and beyond so Asher, who pitched well in eight starts between Reading and Lehigh Valley before his suspension, will get a look. Per the rules of his suspension, Asher was not allowed to pitch in the minor league postseason, so, the majors leagues it is.

Asher handled himself quite well against the team with the third-best record in baseball.

Asher rode the momentum of a four-run third inning, keyed by home runs from Ryan Howard and Peter Bourjos, to his first major league win in a 4-1 victory over the Nationals. The 24-year-old right-hander threw six shutout innings, holding Washington to two hits and one walk, en route to the best major league start of his young career.

Asher was drenched in beer when he returned to his locker stall after the game.

"They got me in the showers," Asher said. 

"Someone asked me last year ... after he was getting rocked around so much, 'Do you think it was a good idea to call him up?'" manager Pete Mackanin said. "And I said yes it is, because when he goes back down he’s going to understand what he’s up against and let’s see what kind of makeup he’s got, if he’s going to fight and battle back. 

"And sure enough he went out there tonight and looked very confident. He felt like he was in control. He got away with a few line drives here and there but nevertheless he threw strikes and only gave up two hits. I’m really proud of him for that."

Late last summer, Asher had just one start when he pitched more than five innings and two two when he gave up fewer than four runs. When he wasn’t missing the strike zone with poor command, he was serving up home run balls with regularity.

But after arming himself with a new two-seam fastball since his last appearance in the major leagues, Asher looked more than competent against a Nationals team that’s scored the fourth-most runs in the National League and had four players with at least 20 home runs in Thursday’s starting lineup. Asher didn’t make many get many swing and misses (he didn’t have a single strikeout in six innings) but he was confident enough in his stuff to make the Nats bats put the ball in play, where the Phillies defense helped out the young right-hander.

"It was a little bit of self-evaluation and talking to (pitching coach Bob McClure) and some of the pitchers," Asher said of adding the two-seamer over the winter. "Velocity doesn’t work up here. It doesn’t matter how hard you throw, if it's straight, they are going to hit it. So going into the off-season, it was something that I wanted to have – something that had movement on it. It has made a world of difference and we want to keep building on it."

The only damage on Asher’s pitching line was a pair of two-out doubles, one in the first and another in the fifth, neither of which that resulted in runs thanks to his ability to get right back on the mound and retire the very next hitter each time.

"It was noticeable to me just his demeanor on the mound," Mackanin said. "It looked like he was confident from the start. He threw strikes. He wasn’t pitching away from contact. That’s huge. For him to go what he’s gone through and develop a new pitch over the winter and to come out against a real good hitting team, a first place team, speaks volumes."

 Ryan Howard's two-out, three-run home run off Washington's A.J. Cole in the fourth inning was the 378th of his career, tying former Washington manager (and Giants-Indians-Diamondbacks slugger) Matt Williams for 72nd on baseball's all-time home run list. Howard has hit seven home runs in 17 starts since the beginning of August. 

• Asher kept his comments brief on missing nearly four months for his aforementioned PED suspension in the minor leagues. 

 "Everything is in the past and unfortunate with what had happened, but it’s in the past now," said Asher, one of a handful of players busted for the same drug in 2016. "There (are) five of us and we’re all in the same boat. We’re all looking for a resolution on what had happened. But that’s all I got for you."

Asher's win on Thursday snapped a five-game losing streak, the longest by a Phillies pitcher to begin a career since Jim Owens in 1955-56.

 • The Phillies win snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Nats, the longest losing streak in team history to the Nationals/Expos franchise. The Phillies scored more runs in the third inning of Thursday's game (four) than they did in a three-game sweep to Washington last week (three) at Citizens Bank Park.

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