By Sam Bush
There is still a month to go in the 2015 season but the Phillies are already planning for what they hope will be a much better 2016.
And rookie right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, who came over from Texas in the July 31 trade for Cole Hamels, is figuring in their plans.
He made his third big league start Monday night in a 3-1 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. He pitched a career-high seven innings, allowing four hits, three runs, two walks and striking out four.
Interim manager Pete Mackanin likes to say that every player is constantly auditioning for a job, and early in Eickhoff’s tryout, he has a 2.84 ERA.
“Very good,” Mackanin told MLB.com about Eickhoff’s first three starts. “The thing I like about him is that he throws strikes. That’s the first thing. The second thing is, the numbers mean something. You look at his ERA and innings pitched, that is a good indicator of how he’s doing. But I like his demeanor on the mound. We’re playing a team that we’re trying [very hard] to beat, and he kept us in the game.”
If Eickhoff keeps pitching like this, he should have an excellent chance to make the 2016 rotation. Right-handers Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams and Chad Billingsley are free agents after the season. Right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez will pitchtoday for Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but he has been a disappointment after signing a three-year, $12 million contract in 2013. Gonzalez cannot be expected to contribute next season considering his prolific injury history.
That leaves rookies Aaron Nola, Adam Morgan, Alec Asher and Eickhoff in the mix along with David Buchanan and others in Triple-A.
“They could always be better,” Eickhoff said about his starts, which have reinforced his desire to continue to attack hitters.
“I’m not shying away from throwing strikes,” he said. “I’m still attacking like I would in Double-A, Triple-A, wherever. I haven’t changed my attack or my approach. Just how things have gone, it’s just learning and continuing what I have in past years.”
Eickhoff had cruised through four innings when he allowed a one-out home run toMichael Conforto in the fifth for a 1-0 Mets lead. Bartolo Colon then ripped a 1-0 fastball up the middle for a two-out single.
“I think he learned you can’t take pitchers for granted,” Mackanin said. “The previous at-bat, he threw [Colon] three or four sliders, and he didn’t even come close. So even with two outs, you just can’t take it for granted.”
Curtis Granderson made Eickhoff pay, crushing a 1-0 fastball to right-center for a two-run homer and making it 3-0.
“It’s a little frustrating,” Eickhoff said. “They got hold of some pitches I left over the plate a bit after falling behind. They were able to square up and do some damage.”
But his manager and teammates still left the ballpark impressed.
“He works quick,” Jeff Francoeur said. “He’s got a good rhythm where it’s real easy to play defense behind him. He’s not trying to strike people out. If it happens, it happens. But he’s letting us make plays. He’s real focused when he’s out there.”