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Phillies stocking up on players with Nebraska ties

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Phillies stocking up on players with Nebraska ties

For what seems to be the first time in history, players from Creighton, Nebraska and UNO all played in the same major league game for the same team Tuesday. Pitcher Tyler Cloyd starred at UNO and Bellevue East.

If there's a kid with potential in the Nebraska area, Philadelphia Phillies scouts know to make sure that Marti Wolever has heard about him.

And, armed with the connections and insights a Council Bluffs native and longtime Papillion resident has, Wolever — the Phillies' scouting director — doesn't mind making the call to take those kinds of players come draft time.

It's paid off pretty well.

Tuesday night, for what appears to be the first time in history, players from Creighton, Nebraska and UNO all played in the same big-league game.

All three of them — right fielder Darin Ruf of Creighton, third baseman Cody Asche of Nebraska and pitcher Tyler Cloyd of UNO — started. All three for the Phillies.

“It's a great thing,” Wolever said. “I'm happy for them. Often times players from the Midwest or the North get slighted because they don't play as much and they don't get seen (by scouts) as much as guys from the warmer weather schools.

“And I'm happy for their programs. It's a feather in their caps, too.”

Cloyd, who had pitched in the big leagues late last year and again earlier this season, just returned to the majors to make the start in a 5-3 loss to the Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park.

The right-hander from Bellevue East gave up three first-inning runs and five runs through three innings but lasted six innings. He took the loss after giving up eight hits, including two homers, while walking one and striking out six.

Ruf, batting sixth in the order, went 0 for 4. Asche, batting seventh, went 1 for 4.

“It's just a wonderful opportunity for all three,” Wolever said. “Time will tell how it plays out for them, but all three worked hard to get there and are certainly deserving. They had pretty good (minor-league) years to get there.”

Cloyd is only the second UNO player to reach the major leagues — Bruce Benedict spent 12 seasons as an Atlanta Braves catcher from 1978 through 1989.

The only Creighton players to reach the majors in Benedict's era were pitcher Dennis Rasmussen and infielder Dave McKay. Benedict faced Rasmussen twice, but McKay played only in the American League in the days before interleague play.

Benedict often played against the likes of former Nebraska pitchers Tim Burke and Bob Sebra, both with Montreal, and played with and against North Platte, Neb., native Zane Smith, who played college ball at Indiana State.

On July 17, 1987, Sebra started against Smith in a game that Burke won in relief, but Benedict didn't play.

The Phillies made some measure of history last September 27 when Cloyd, Ruf and reliever Jake Diekman of Wymore — three Nebraska natives — all appeared in the same game. Diekman had signed with Nebraska but turned professional before ever pitching for the Huskers.

Former Iowa Western Community College pitcher Jeremy Horst, a Wyoming native who played high school ball in North Dakota, also pitched for the Phillies in that game.

That may have been the first time three Nebraska natives played for the same team since 1962, when Jackie Brandt of Omaha Benson, Russ Snyder of Oak and Ron Hansen of Oxford all played often for the Baltimore Orioles. Hansen grew up in California.

Ruf, a 27-year-old from Omaha Westside, made his big league debut last September after leading all minor leaguers with 38 home runs in Class AA. He hit three more with the Phillies.

A 20th-round daft pick in 2009, he started this season with Class AAA Lehigh Valley, but returned to the majors on July 6 and has become a regular. Ruf hit .266 with seven homers and 46 RBIs in 83 games in Class AAA, and he's been effective in the big leagues, with a .262 average, eight homers and 13 RBIs in 37 games.

“I don't know that he could ever repeat what he did last year,” Wolever said. “And then he went to Triple A for the first time and was seeing a little different type of pitcher — guys who are coming down (from the big leagues) who know how to pitch a little bit.”

Asche, 23, who played high school baseball in O'Fallon, Mo., was a fourth-round pick in 2011. He played in the Class AAA all-star game this season before making his big-league debut July 30. A notoriously slow starter at every minor-league level, he's hitting .200 with two homers and nine RBIs in 19 games.

“I remember leaving Williamsport (the short-season Class A team where Asche made his professional debut in 2011) and at the end of the year he hit (.192) and I was thinking, 'Boy, I don't know, we've got a long ways to go here,' ” Wolever said. “But he's so much like (Phillies star Chase) Utley. You don't know if he went 4 for 4 or 0 for 4, he's the same guy every day..”

Cloyd, 26, an 18th-round pick in 2008, was the Class AAA International League pitcher of the year last season, going 12-1 with a 2.35 ERA for Lehigh Valley and 15-1 with a 2.26 ERA for the season, including a brief stint in Class AA. His fastball rarely reaches even the upper 80s, but he typically has pinpoint command and has developed a cut fastball that has helped his stock soar.

After a difficult start this season, Cloyd was 4-1 with a 1.34 ERA in his last seven starts, working seven innings in all but one of those outings — when he was taken out after a long rain delay. Overall he was 5-9 with a 4.89 ERA for Lehigh Valley. In five starts with the Phillies this season he's 2-3 with a 4.02 ERA.

“I think he's gone back to the stuff that got him there,” Wolever said. “He's not panicking and not trying to do too much and he's back on track again. He's not going to overwhelm you with his velocity and he doesn't have plus, plus stuff. But his secret has always been his pitchability.”

Diekman, 26, who didn't pitch Tuesday, is a left-hander who was drafted in the 30th round in 2007 and made his big league debut last year. Like Ruf, Asche and Cloyd, he spent some time this year with Lehigh Valley, overcoming some wildness before making it back to the majors.

“He's got a hell of a live arm,” Wolever said. “If he keeps his command and times up his breaking ball consistently, he's going to have a long career.”

Horst pitched with the Phillies earlier this season but has been injured.

That's not all in the pipeline for the Phillies, who have also recently gotten Millard North graduate Mike Zagurski and Sioux City, Iowa, and Iowa Western pitcher Joe Bisenius to the majors.

Former Nebraska pitcher Mike Nesseth is closing games for the Phillies' Class AA team in Reading (Pa.), and former Iowa Western player Tyson Gillies is an outfielder with Lehigh Valley.

Wolever said he doesn't sense in Philadelphia — the franchise that produced hall of famer Richie Ashburn of Tilden, Neb. — that anyone notices how unusual it is that a state like Nebraska, which produces only a handful of major leaguers, can claim four playing on one team.

“I here from (Phillies senior adviser) Pat Gillick every once in a while and he'll get his two cents in,” Wolever said, who now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. “But for our fans, that's where these kids are from, and that's not the bottom line. They're just Phillies.”

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