Phillies hope rookie's mistakes this month turn into wins in '92


ST. LOUIS -- The mistakes he makes in September, when the air begins to cool and the crowds in non-contending cities start to dwindle, are the mistakes that Andy Ashby won't make as often after the slate is erased and a new season begins next April.

That, at least, is the way the Phillies hope it will work. That's why Ashby made a two-start cameo appearance in June; that's why he's up for six auditions in the final month.

Each time out he demonstrates the kind of stuff that make the Phillies believe he can be added to their rotation in Clearwater next spring. Each time out, he also has made enough mistakes to lose the game. Manager Jim Fregosi has so often sermonized about how important it is to nurture the fragile confidence of young pitchers and prefers to concentrate on the bright side of what he's seen so far.

"I'm not concerned with him losing his confidence," Fregosi said after the Cardinals beat Ashby and the Phillies, 4-2, Monday night at Busch Stadium. "He goes out there and he throws strikes.

"Sure, I'd like to see him get a couple W's. But he hasn't done anything to hurt himself. I thought he was a lot more relaxed tonight than he was his first start in Cincinnati (June 10). That night, he was like a cat on a hot tin roof.

"We're looking at him for next year and he hasn't done anything to discourage me. He had good stuff, good control."

Heck, for the first four innings Monday night, rounding up the 54 tickets he needed for family and friends coming in from Kansas City to see him pitch posed a bigger riddle for the 24-year-old right-hander than the Cardinals' lineup.

For the first four innings, he didn't give up a hit and allowed only one base-runner, Todd Zeile, who walked with two outs in the first.

It all came unstuck for Ashby in the fifth, but it wasn't quite as bad as the final pitching line -- a record that fell to 0-3, 4 2/3 innings, 5 hits, 3 earned runs -- might indicate.

Felix Jose led off the fifth with a clean single up the middle. With Milt Thompson up, Jose broke for second. Shortstop Dickie Thon moved over to take the throw, then had to reverse his field when Thompson hit a high chopper to the spot he had just vacated. He was able to glove the ball, but didn't have a play at either base.

Tom Pagnozzi ripped a grounder down the third base line. The ball stayed just fair for a double and the Cardinals had a 2-0 lead with a runner in scoring position and nobody out.

Center-fielder John Kruk made a running, sliding catch on Jose Oquendo's bloop to shallow center, but pitcher Omar Olivares followed with a single to score Pagnozzi, although Thon might have had a play on the ball if he hadn't been screened off the play by the runner.

"I don't really think of the things that could have gone differently," Ashby said. "I don't like to make excuses. Besides, there are two ways of looking at it. Maybe if I make a better pitch to Pagnozzi, he hits the ball into the ground and we get a double play.

"You always want to win, but you have to learn and adjust. You have to learn to be relaxed and not let situations affect you. I felt pretty relaxed, but then I started getting ground balls and stuff started happening and I began to get behind in the count.

"But that's just like when I first went to Triple A. I was pretty nervous my first three or four starts. Then I settled down and everything was fine."

After Ozzie Smith singled with two outs to put Cardinals on first and third, Ashby was gone. Fregosi brought in Danny Cox from the bullpen.

By now, as it turned out, Olivares had all the runs he needed. That may have been because he was pitching so well. After all, the Phillies got just five hits and managed to advance only one runner past first base before Charlie Hayes hit a two-out, two-run homer in the top of the ninth.

It also may have been simply because the Phillies haven't swung the bats well lately. In their last five games, they've totaled just nine runs on 33 hits. Five of those runs and 14 of the hits came Sunday against the Astros.

So the Phillies lost again, for the fifth time in six games. But they're hoping that they learned some things that will keep them from losing games like this next year.

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