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030616.Phils.Eickhoff Nick Wass/AP Photo

Jerad Eickhoff delivers a pitch against the Washington Nationals in September. The 25-year-old Phillies right-hander took what was likely the last test before getting into his first Grapefruit League game when he threw two simulated innings on Sunday.

March 06, 2016

Jerad Eickhoff likely to make spring debut this week

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Jerad Eickhoff’s next time facing hitters will likely come in a Grapefruit League game.

Eickhoff, set back this spring with a non-displaced fracture on the outside of his right thumb, threw a live batting practice session for the second time in four days on Sunday morning and looked game-ready. The 25-year-old right-hander threw around 40 pitches to catcher J.P. Arencibia and believes he’s on track to jump into the Phillies rotation this week.

“I’d probably say end of the week,” Eickhoff said. “We’re looking at one more bullpen session and see how it feels.”

The Phillies released their pitching schedule for the week earlier in the morning. Following Charlie Morton’s start vs. the Yankees today in Clearwater, Vincent Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer are on tap to pitch in Bradenton against the Pirates on Monday, Adam Morgan follows Tuesday, and Jeremy Hellickson, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Mark Appel are among the pitchers scheduled for Wednesday’s split squad games.

If Aaron Nola follows on schedule Thursday (the current schedule is only posted through Wednesday), it’s possible Eickhoff could slide into the rotation on Friday in Orlando against the Atlanta Braves after a side bullpen session early in the week.

By simulating two innings on Sunday morning – taking a break in between 20-pitch sessions, what pitchers refer to as an “up and down” side session – Eickhoff has been able to make up for lost time by stretching out his arm. If he’s able to rejoin the rotation by the end of the week, he would be able to make as many as five starts in exhibition games, meaning he still has plenty of time to catch up for the start of the regular season.

“Absolutely,” he said Sunday.

Eickhoff was limited to light drills when official workouts began in Clearwater last month because of a mishap while taking bunting practice. On Feb. 11, Eickhoff couldn’t get out of the way quick enough of a batting practice pitch that caught him on the outside of his right thumb.

In the 3 1/2 weeks since he’s been able to take the steps necessary to return to full duty before the second week of games.

“It feels good out there, (my) arm feels good” Eickhoff said. “It’s progressing just like we thought.”

The last hurdle for Eickhoff is to regain a complete feel for his secondary pitchers, something the swelling on his thumb had prevented early on in being able to get a comfortable grip. But that’s also something he should be able to refine during Grapefruit League games.

“There’s still some time for that,” he said. “With the slider, curve ball. I threw a couple of curve balls today. It’s just kind of getting that feel back. But that’s just all in time.”

Eickhoff, acquired in the July trade that sent Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers, went 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA in eight starts with the Phillies last season. He is one of four pitchers penciled into the starting rotation, along with Nola, Hellickson, and Morton.