Back in rotation, Ashby deals in front of All-Star uncle

May 26th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Between hugging old friends -- 1976 National League Cy Young Award winner Randy Jones here, ever-smiling Tony Gwynn Jr. there -- former two-time Padres All-Star Andy Ashby pointed to his heart. It was a few hours before Wednesday’s 2-1 Brewers win at Petco Park and Ashby was telling stories about his nephew, Milwaukee left-hander Aaron Ashby, who was about to make a start not only sentimental for his extended family, but salient for his team, which needs the 24-year-old now as much as ever.

“When he was in high school, I told my brother, ‘Hey, this kid can do it because he has it in here,’” said Uncle Andy, placing an index finger on the left side of his chest. “You know when you see people and they’re just, like, a little different from everybody else? That’s how Aaron was.

“He has it inside him. That’s all he ever wanted to do was play baseball. I told him, ‘You’re going to get drafted!’ Now he’s in the big leagues, pitching in a city where I grew my career. It’s so cool.”

The younger Ashby put on a good show, working around four singles and three walks in 5 2/3 innings while holding the Padres to one unearned run. When Rowdy Tellez and Tyrone Taylor drove in a run apiece against Yu Darvish in the seventh inning and Luis Perdomo, Brad Boxberger and Devin Williams provided 3 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, the Brewers, without Josh Hader, Willy Adames and Hunter Renfroe, had taken two of three on the road from a talented Padres team that entered Tuesday night on a five-game winning streak.

In the days leading up to his first career appearance in San Diego, Ashby used the same word as his uncle, calling this “a cool moment.” It was also an important moment, considering Ashby has been elevated from swingman to a regular member of Milwaukee’s starting rotation in light of All-Star Freddy Peralta’s right shoulder injury. Peralta is expected to pitch again this season, but will miss “significant” time, manager Craig Counsell said.

For Ashby, it is a promotion of sorts. Wednesday marked his 10th appearance of the season and his fourth start. The six relief appearances were often scheduled and perfectly timed to allow Ashby to throw his tune-up sessions in the bullpen between outings as if he were a starter the whole time. The results were good; Ashby entered Wednesday with a 3.49 ERA over his first 28 1/3 innings, and by moving in and out of the rotation, he afforded extra rest to the other starters when the Brewers deemed it helpful, or allowed them to get the matchups they preferred.

Now, Ashby is needed in the rotation for a long stretch.

“I think it’s like myself filling in for [Josh] Hader,” Williams said. “[Ashby] filling in for Freddy is something he’s definitely capable of. He’s got incredible stuff. He just has to trust it, you know? I think he can be really good for us.”

Williams was the unofficial series MVP, pitching three consecutive days for the first time in his career and delivering a trio of scoreless ninth innings with saves in the last two. Or maybe it was Taylor, who drove in six runs -- including the go-ahead RBIs in both victories -- and missed a three-run home run by a couple of feet in the series finale.

But the foundation came from Ashby, who matched his career high for innings and set a career high with 91 pitches.

“He was very fresh,” Counsell said. “I think he could have gone more today, but I think we've gotten to a really good point and we can treat him like a regular starter moving forward.”

About Ashby settling into a starting role, Counsell said, “What we've done with him has been very consistent so far. We'll continue to be consistent with him. I think that's a good way to help him get better.”

Before the Brewers’ charter flight lifted off for St. Louis, where the team begins a four-game series on Thursday, Ashby visited with his large contingent of friends and family on the field. The group naturally included his uncle, who has now seen him pitch twice in the big leagues. The first time was Aaron’s Major League debut last June, when he started against the Cubs and allowed seven baserunners and seven runs (four earned) without escaping the first inning.

“Good thing today went a little bit better than my debut did,” Aaron Ashby said.

He rebounded from that inauspicious debut and has a 3.18 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 65 big league innings since then. His uncle has provided guidance along the way.

“He had a lot of confidence in me from the beginning,” Aaron Ashby said. “I remember every time he would leave town, going, ‘OK, you can do this. You can do this.’ It was cool having him here today.”

“It means everything to me,” Andy Ashby said. “This is where my career started and I played here for a long time, and now to see my nephew pitching here in San Diego, it’s awesome. He is learning every time out. He has it all. He just has to get it all worked out. The thing for him is to trust his stuff in the strike zone. If he does that, he’s going to be fine.”