The Atlanta Braves, trying to bolster their once-dominant starting rotation, traded for right-hander Andy Ashby on Wednesday, sending a former top prospect and a minor leaguer to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Braves, holding a slim lead in the National League East, traded away Bruce Chen and minor league pitcher Jimmy Osting hours after the New York Yankees got former Braves pitcher Denny Neagle in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds.
Ashby, 33, has a 76-81 career record and a 4.10 ERA in nine years. His ERA ballooned to 5.68 this season, but he has allowed just three earned runs in his last 15 innings.
"Ashby's ability and experience are very appealing to us, and we believe he's shown signs of returning to his form of old," Atlanta general manager John Schuerholz said.
Phillies general manager Ed Wade said the team was close to trading Ashby to the Yankees, but made the deal with Atlanta after the Yankees-Reds trade. A third team made an offer for Ashby that was unacceptable, he said.
"If the opportunity came to try and extend our relationship with Andy, we were going to do that," Wade said. "But that never presented itself. We didn't want to get to the end of the season and possibly get zero value in return."
Ashby, a two-time All-Star, is in the final year of a $15 million, three-year contract. He is making $5.9 million this year.
Chen, 23, has been one of the Braves' top prospects for several years, but has never established himself as a major league starter. He was 4-0 with a 2.50 ERA in 22 appearances for Atlanta this season, mostly in long relief.
He said he was eager to join the Phillies, who are in last place in the NL East, 12 games behind the Braves.
Chen, a left-hander, struggled as the Braves fifth sarter for part of 1999, going 1-2 with a 4.95 ERA in seven starts. He is making $207,500 this year.
Chen was again a candidate for a spot in the Braves' rotation this year after John Smoltz was sidelined by a season-ending elbow surgery. But manager Bobby Cox filled the last two spots in his rotation with veterans Terry Mulholland and John Burkett.
Still, the Braves' rotation has been shakier than usual. Kevin Millwood has been unable to regain the form that made him Atlanta's top pitcher in 1999, and Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine have lost some of the dominance that made them Cy Young winners.
Both were selected as All-Stars. But their ERAs have risen considerably since early this season Maddux's from 2.16 at the end of May to 3.32 now, and Glavine's from 2.29 in mid-May to 3.61 at the All-Star break.
Millwood, who won 35 games for the Braves in 1998 and 1999, is just 5-8 this year.
Wade said the Phillies envisioned Chen as a starter as a No. 3 or 4 starter. He is likely to pitch Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays in what would have been Ashby's turn in the rotation.
Chen said he was surprised by the deal but looked forward to pitching on a more consistent schedule.
"When I was in Atlanta, I didn't know when I would pitch," he said. "I could go 7 or 8 days without pitching. To know that Philadelphia will give me an opportunity to start is very good for me."
Ashby left a start in late June in a heated exchange with fans upset after a poor outing.
After allowing six runs in six innings against the Milwaukee Brewers, Ashby exchanged words with fans behind the dugout when he left the game and yelled several obscenities at one fan.
"It's frustrating," Ashby said. "It's not the place (Philadelphia), it's how I'm pitching. It's the same thing every start. I can't figure it out. Maybe I should try throwing sidearm or left-handed. I don't know."
But he pitched eight strong innings Saturday against Baltimore. In fronof scouts from at least seven teams, he allowed just one earned run to win his second straight start.
Ashby, signed by the Phillies in 1986, was traded back to the Phillies from San Diego in the offseason.
Chen was named minor league pitcher of the year in 1998 as he rose from Double-A to the majors. After being called up to the Braves in September, he went 2-0 in four starts with a 3.98 ERA.
Osting, 23, was a combined 4-10 this year with three minor league teams. He missed the entire 1998 season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his pitching elbow.
He led the Class A South Atlantic League last year with 14 wins. He had a 2.88 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 147 innings.
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