Nevin Ashley did not get the baseball he smoked over the right-center field fence off Josh Beckett on Monday night for his first home run in a big league uniform. But he will have that memory for a long time.
"Not too often you can say you hit against Josh Beckett," Ashley said.
Especially when you got to hit against Beckett in a big league spring training game after being cut from big league spring training camp.
The Rays sent Ashley back to minor league camp with the first wave of cuts, but the catcher who reached Double A last season, has been called back several times this spring to give the Rays some innings behind the plate.
"Since we cut him he's been inspired," Rays manager Joe Maddon joked after the Rays 9-3 win.
Actually inspired isn't the right word.
"I'm having the time of my life right now," Ashley said.
Ashley was 3-for-3 with the home run, a stolen base and three runs scored. He's batting .533.
A side note: Ashley's wife is named Ashley. She goes by Ashley Ashley.
Now, back to the Nevin Ashley Story.
He showed off what he called his "deceptive speed for a catcher" when he hustled all the way to third in the fifth inning after Beckett threw his roller up the third base line into right field. In the seventh, Ashley singled and stole second, then hustled home from third on a pair of errors by Red Sox first baseman Brett Harper.
"What he did there was not unique," Maddon said. "We know he can do those things. He plays a complete game."
Ashley's best attribute is his defense and the way he handles pitchers, which is why Maddon felt comfortable having Ashley catch James Shields, Matt Garza and Niemann.
But the Rays want the 25-year-old to improve his work at the plate. He's a .262 career hitter over four minor league seasons, including a .212 mark at Montgomery last summer.
Ashley, taken in the sixth round in the 2006 draft, worked with Maddon and hitting coach Derek Shelton this camp and feels he is moving in the right direction at the plate.
He no longer uses a leg kick, choosing instead to spread his legs in the batter's box and use his hands more.
"Offensively I need to pick it up," Ashley said. "They said, 'Hey, try this out.' It's working right now. I'm not going to change it."
Maddon said Ashley is definitely taking advantage of his extra time around the big league coaching staff. That, Ashley said, is his goal.
"Right now I'm just enjoying the time up here whenever I get called up, especially to start a game, to handle the pitching staff that we have," he said. "I don't take any day for granted. I'm just enjoying the time I have."