Steve Ascher is only in his second year as a professional baseball player, and he already has a championship ring coming his way.
Ascher pitched four innings of scoreless relief, striking out five batters, for the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs, who secured their first Florida State League championship Sunday night with a 3-2 defeat of the Dayton Tortugas. Kean Wong’s bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 13th inning brought an end to the game at Charlotte Sports Park and gave the Stone Crabs the series, three games to one.
After the game, golf carts filled with champagne and beer were driven out to the field and the Stone Crabs, who are affiliated with the Tampa Bay Rays, celebrated.
It wasn’t a bad way for Ascher, a former Mattituck High School star from Cutchogue, to cap an encouraging season.
“I kind of felt that we were going to pull it out the whole time,” said Ascher, who pitched the ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th innings, throwing 55 pitches. He added: “I felt great. I never felt more confident on the mound.”
Ascher said the championship is “pretty huge because we lost a lot of our players throughout the season and we struggled big time in August.”
Ascher, who will turn 22 next month, was selected by the Rays out of Oneonta State in the 17th round of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. He played for the Princeton (W.Va.) Rays in a rookie league last year. This year he was skipped a couple of levels and assigned to play in the advanced Class A Florida State League. He noticed the difference in the caliber of play.
“It was a huge learning curve,” the 6-foot, 185-pound left-hander said. “You can’t just throw all fastballs and get away with it any more. If you make any mistakes, they’re going to hit it.”
Ascher said he appreciated the importance of being able to throw an off-speed pitch for a strike. He worked on his changeup and curveball to complement his fastball, which reaches the 90-to-92-mile-per-hour range. In addition, he said he learned to minimize the number of pitches he needs in the bullpen to warm up before entering a game, sometimes as few as five to 10.
Ascher did well enough this past season to go 7-3 during the regular season with a 2.50 earned run average. He made 35 appearances (31 in relief), allowing 71 hits over 75 2/3 innings. His strikeout to walk ratio was excellent: 39-2.
“I think I just had to prove to myself that I could play at whatever level I’m at,” he said.
In the playoffs, Ascher gave up one run over five and two-thirds innings.
Following Ascher’s performance in the title-clinching game, he was praised by his manager, Michael Johns.
“Ascher’s had stones all year,” Johns said in an interview that was posted on YouTube. Johns said Ascher has “that intangible of being able to get out of tough situations because he’s got grit and he’s got heart and he was awesome. He’s been awesome all year.”
Words like that have to be reassuring to Ascher.
“Not only my coaches, but the whole organization has given me great feedback,” he said. “It’s always nice to hear.”
Photo: Steve Ascher’s pitching helped the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs win their first Florida State League championship. (Credit: Courtesy)