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No “what ifs” for Ashby

Editor’s Note: This story appeared in Wednesday’s Dispatch.

The whole ordeal started as one large experiment concocted by Tracy Woodson, Chris Ashby’s manager in 2003.

Woodson’s Double-A Carolina pitching staff was in dire need of some rest. A playoff spot was already locked up. So why not ask the catcher with the cannon for an arm to try his luck at pitching?

So Ashby took the mound and disaster struck immediately. He loaded the bases in his first outing courtesy of two walks. Woodson cringed. But Ashby struck out two straight batters to escape the situation unscathed.

And Woodson’s go-to reliever was born.

Ashby pitched in eight other games that year and recorded a 2.21 ERA — even posting 5 2/3 innings and only allowing one run in Carolina’s final game of the regular season. The performance led Ashby, then 28, to report to the Florida Marlins’ minor league spring training the next year with plans of splitting time as a position player and pitcher.

It was like reliving Little League all over again.

“They asked me if I wanted to pitch instead of hit and I said, ‘No,’” Ashby said with a chuckle recently. “I told them, ‘I’ll do both.’ And as the year went on that situation (a tired bullpen) just kept happening.”

A surplus of pitching in the Marlins’ system in ‘04 put a halt to Ashby’s plans to be a part-time pitcher (he pitched in only six more games). But Ashby insists there are no “what ifs?” circling in his head. He was never interested in living the reverse Rick Ankiel story. And it turns out that the decision to remain a hitter was a pretty good judgment.

Before joining the York Revolution May 28, Ashby had spent parts of nine seasons in the minor leagues at Triple-A, the last three at Albuquerque (Marlins) after his promotion from Carolina. His resume also includes a .265 batting average and a .354 on-base percentage over 15 minor league seasons.

That patience has made Ashby the perfect fit in the No. 3 hole in the Revs’ lineup. He has the most multi-hit games on the club (23), hit .500 (15-for-30) on York’s recent seven-game homestand and ranks fourth in the Atlantic League in batting average (.354).

Ashby also played the part of hero in York’s 12-8 win Tuesday night with a grand slam in the ninth inning. He had six RBIs in the game.

“Who hits the ball harder in this league?,” outfielder Jason Aspito said of Ashby recently.

But even with his success at the plate, Ashby found himself in a familiar place recently. Revolution manager Chris Hoiles called on Ashby to pitch in a lopsided 17-6 loss to Somerset last week. Ashby, the owner of a 4.00 ERA in 27 career innings, called it a fun experience and the 6-foot-3 right-hander had a small confession to make afterward.

“I was looking at the radar gun every single pitch,” said Ashby, 33, who said he hit as high as 92 mph during his cameo as a pitcher with the Marlins. “When I catch and I pitch, my philosophy is the same. I want to be aggressive in the strike zone and get ahead. Then you can start doing other stuff.”

Ashby is also the emergency catcher for the Revs — behind Sandy Aracena and Luis Taveras — and has played the majority of his games at first base (25) and in left field (30). But with his unique skill set, Ashby could certainly play all nine positions in a game — a thought that has entered his mind a couple times.

Maybe it will happen in one of the Atlantic League’s signature marathons. But until then, Hoiles hopes one of his most trusted hitters continues to rake.

“He comes up in a lot of big situations and comes through quite a bit for us,” Hoiles said of Ashby. “You can’t say enough about him and the job he’s done.”

*Steve Russ and Claudette Roulo photos.

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One Response

  1. This has been a different team with Jones and Ashby aboard. I have to give Gladstone a lot of credit for being able to sign guys of that caliber during the season.

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