In Ashby’s first season, he tied a major league record by striking out the side on nine pitches in the fourth inning of a game played on June 15, 1991. But Ashby didn’t find his groove until July 1993, when a six-player deal sent him to San Diego. With the Padres, Ashby developed a cut fastball and began to trust his stuff rather than nibbling. Rewarded with a league-high 31 starts in 1995, Ashby responded with the third-best ERA in the National League.
The Phillies signed Ashby in 1986 as an undrafted free agent with high hopes for the young right-hander. But a suspect shoulder, chronic control problems and high ERAs during his first two major-league seasons prompted the Phillies to make him available in the 1992 expansion draft. He was selected by the Rockies, but Colorado’s Mile High Stadium proved too much of a hitter’s haven for him to find the confidence he needed. An 0-4 record and 8.50 ERA led to his demotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs during the 1993 season, and in July he was sent to San Diego as the player to be named later in a deal that had brought Bruce Hurst and Greg W. Harris to Colorado in return for Brad Ausmus and Doug Bochtler the day before.
In San Diego, Ashby’s control improved immediately. Despite a 6-11 record with the Padres in 1994, he finished the season with an ERA below 5.00 (3.40) for the first time in his career. In 1995, showing a new willingness to pitch inside (Ashby plunked 11 batters) he went 12-10 with a 2.94 ERA, finishing the shortened season first in the NL in starts (31) and eighth in strikeouts (150).
In 1996 Ashby was plagued by shoulder troubles that sent him to the DL three times. Despite his injuries, a much-improved Padres offense helped him to a 9-5 record (3.23 ERA) and he managed to pitch fairly well until the end of the season. But he struggled in his division playoff start and was removed in the sixth inning with no decision. Elbow problems in 1997 dropped him to 9-11 with a 4.13 ERA as the Padres had a disappointing season.
Ashby’s health improved in 1998, and he turned in his best season as the Padres won the NL pennant. For much of the year he was on pace to win 20 games, but a strained muscle and tendinitis in his hip slowed him down in the last two months. Ashby finished 17-9 with a 3.34 ERA as the Padres made the World Series for the first time since 1984, but was bombed by the Yankees in Game Two as the Padres were swept in four.
Padre ace Kevin Brown signed a seven-year, $105 million free-agent deal with the Dodgers after the 1998 season, leaving Ashby as the staff’s top starter. Ashby once again had a strong first half but back problems had worn him down by the end of the season. Ashby finished 14-10 with a 3.80 ERA, the most established starter on a decimated Padres club that finished the season 14 games below .500.
Even though he was firmly ensconced as the Padres’ ace, Ashby showed little enthusiasm for the club’s rebuilding project. Despite closer Trevor Hoffman’s appeals to club management, it appeared unlikely that Ashby would re-sign with the team when his contract expired after 2000. In November, San Diego decided to deal him back to Philadelphia for some younger arms.
The Phillies hoped to team Ashby with star hurler Curt Schilling to anchor their unsettled rotation for years to come, but Schilling began the season on the DL and Ashby’s less-than-stellar performance did nothing to prevent his team’s slide into the NL cellar. “I haven’t done a thing to help this team since I’ve been here,” Ashby told the Philadelphia Daily News after one particularly ugly loss to the Brewers on June 29th dropped him to 2-7 with a 6.36 ERA. “I’m as frustrated as I’ve ever been … I’m ready to try sidearm, or lefthanded.”
By the All-Star break, the Phillies had decided to restock their farm system by shopping both pitchers to contenders. Ashby was traded to the Atlanta Braves on July 12, and Schilling went to the Arizona Diamondbacks soon afterwards.