'That's what I'm here for': Ashby eyes spot in Crew's rotation

Lefty aims for healthy 2024, feels good after throwing simulated game in first spring action

February 26th, 2024

PHOENIX -- The Brewers still view as a starter. Ashby still views himself as a starter. Now, he just has to go out there and take his old job back.

The left-handed Ashby, who missed all of the 2023 season due to shoulder surgery, is healthy again. And he's hungry to reclaim his spot in the Brewers' rotation, where he struck out 103 batters in 88 innings as a starter in '22.

"For sure I see myself as a starter," Ashby said on Monday. "That's what I've come up doing, that's what I'm comfortable doing. That's what I'm here for: To try to earn a spot in this starting rotation."

The 25-year-old took the mound on Monday for his first game action of Spring Training -- a simulated game, on the Brewers' back fields, but a step up from the live batting practice Ashby threw last week and a step toward Cactus League game appearances.

Earlier in the morning, manager Pat Murphy had reinforced the idea of Aaron Ashby, Brewers starter. Yes, Murphy said, Milwaukee is still billing Ashby as a starting pitcher. At least at this stage.

The opportunity is there for Ashby, who was one of the Brewers' top pitching prospects not too long ago, and showed enough promise over his first two seasons to get a five-year, $20.5 million extension in 2022.

The back end of the Brewers' 2024 rotation is wide open. Ashby is competing for one of the slots behind Freddy Peralta and Wade Miley, along with veterans like Jakob Junis and Colin Rea and prospects like DL Hall, Robert Gasser (No. 6) and Jacob Misiorowski (No. 3).

To win one, Ashby will have to stay healthy, build up his arm strength to handle a starter's workload and, ideally, get his old stuff back.

"Walking off the mound healthy every day is definitely the core focus. But it's also like -- that's happened enough days in a row now where it feels like I can start to focus more on execution and how the stuff's coming out," Ashby said.

"If I can go out there and compete and be efficient through four, five, six innings, I think that's what [the Brewers are] looking for. They're looking for someone to eat up innings, who's gonna give us a chance to win every night. That's who's gonna be in the rotation."

In Monday's simulated game, Ashby threw two innings, and his stuff did look sharp -- at least, appropriately sharp for this early point in the spring. His sinker sat around 92-94 mph, and his two breaking balls had the movement he's used to generating.

Ashby snapped off several good sliders and curves while he was out there.

"The velo's coming back how we thought it would," Ashby said. "All the shapes are there, how they're supposed to be. ... We're pretty happy with the way everything's moving right now. The sinker, curveball, slider, everything."

Ashby's velocity is a big number to keep an eye on. He was sitting at 96 mph in 2022, and dialing it up to 98-99 mph at his best.

That's overpowering for a lefty starter -- Ashby had the fourth-highest fastball velo of any of them in 2022, behind only Shane McClanahan, Jesús Luzardo and Blake Snell. But during his ill-fated rehab stint last fall, when he got knocked around for a 15.43 ERA in seven outings, Ashby dipped to the low 90s.

Ashby wants to build that velo back up over the course of Spring Training, especially if he's going to prove to the Brewers that he can be a starter for them again in 2024.

"I'm gonna push the envelope as much as I can," Ashby said. "I don't think I'll be throwing upper 90s in three weeks, but I'd be happy with being right around 94-95."

Ashby didn't miss a ton of bats in the sim game, especially with his sinker, but he did induce a bunch of ground balls. That was a positive takeaway, even though Ashby's 10.7 K/9 as a Major Leaguer are a big part of what earned him his extension.

If he finds that swing-and-miss ability as spring goes on, as the Brewers believe he will, Ashby should have as good a shot as any of the pitchers in the mix to start games for Milwaukee this year.

"The stuff will continue to get better," Murphy said of Ashby. "We're looking for him to keep progressing, keep progressing."