July 21, 2016
Aaron Nola went through the dark period of his first full year in the major leagues in June, when a minor league option didn't seem far-fetched despite how well he had pitched in April and May. Vince Velasquez’s struggles arrived a few weeks before, with an inability to pitch more than four or five innings in a handful of consecutive starts was followed by a trip to the disabled list.
Jerad Eickhoff has arguably been the Phillies most consistent starting pitcher for the season’s first four months. But like Nola and Velasquez, this is his first full season in a major-league rotation and the 162-game schedule is anything if not unforgiving.
And so, it’s late July and it’s apparently Eickhoff’s turn to endure the growing pains of a young pitcher feeling his way through the highest level of competition in his chosen craft.
After handling himself adequately the first time through the Miami Marlins order on Thursday night, Eickhoff quickly came undone in the fourth inning.
Home run. Double. Hit by pitch. Double. Run scored on a ground out. Double.
Eickhoff gave up back-to-back hits in the fifth inning, too, and never saw the sixth. The 26-year-old right-hander was hit hard for the second time in three starts in a lopsided 9-3 defeat to the Marlins. Eickhoff, who stands to be the elder statesmen in the rotation when Jeremy Hellickson gets traded within the next two 10 days, has an 8.27 ERA in his last three starts.
"He's got one of the best curveballs in baseball (and) I didn't think he used it enough, especially in that fourth inning," manager Pete Mackanin critiqued afterward. "It's a really good pitch for him. He got away from it for some reason. ... For whatever reason, he didn't use it."
Eickhoff's curveball accounted for just 21 of the 90 pitches he threw; he used a two-seam or a four-seam fastball twice as often (47 of his pitches) and a slider (18 pitches) almost as much, too.
"There were definitely times I could have used (the curveball) more," Eickhoff said. "It was kind of heavy slider and two-seamer tonight and the occasional curveball. In that last inning I was able to use it more and I got some bad swings on it. It was just unfortunate I was able to realize that myself and throw that more in the game in that fourth inning."
Perhaps pairing Eickhoff with Carlos Ruiz would have done the trick; the veteran catcher had caught seven of the second-year pitcher's last eight starts prior to Thursday night
The Phils, meanwhile, have lost five of seven games since returning from the All-Star break. They have scored five runs (total) in their last four losses.
But they reached a new low on Thursday, when the word “lopsided” may have been a kind way to describe the night when Freddy Galvis stepped in to lead off the bottom of the eighth inning.
Before Galvis ripped his ninth home run of the year, the Phillies were being out-hit 16-1. They had more errors (two) than hits (one) entering the bottom of the eighth.
Any momentum the Phillies had going into the break, when they had won six of their last eight games and their offense was in sync, was lost in the first week back.
"It’s been crazy," Galvis said. "It’s been one week good, one week bad. You know? Hopefully, we’ll turn that around tomorrow and play good in Pittsburgh, try to put everything together like a team. I think for us, it’s about trying to put together good at-bats. Take some pitches. I think everything will happen (after that). One of the main things is getting guys on base. We have to get guys on base. put some runners in scoring position, and try to do the job."
Mackanin tipped his cap to the guy on the other side.
"That was the best I've seen (Marlins starter Tom) Koehler," Mackanin said. "He had a real good curveball. He pitched extremely well against us. I'll give him credit for that."
And with apologies to Tom Koehler (who entered the night with 2-4 with a 3.99 ERA in 13 career games against the Phillies), the opposing pitcher wasn’t Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale or Zack Greinke. Then again, the Phillies middle of the lineup isn't exactly filled with guys like the 2009 versions of Chase Utley or Raul Ibanez or Jayson Werth, either.
The Phillies have scored a major league-worst 149 runs at home in 2016. The next closest team, the Marlins, have scored 18 more runs in their own ballpark … and also in seven fewer games.
“(We’re hitting) .218 at home,” Mackanin said before the game. “I don’t get it. All these teams that come in say they love to hit here. We just don’t hit here. I don’t know if it’s an anomaly this year or what. That last homestand we hit the ball well here. I don’t know if they’re just pressing at home. I don’t really have an answer.”
The answer didn’t emerge later that night. So much for Citizens Bank Park being a hitter’s park or that hittin’ weather Charlie Manuel used to talk about.
Both of the Phillies hits on Thursday were home runs: Galvis’ aforementioned eighth-inning solo shot and a two-run shot from Ryan Howard in the fourth.
RYNO 2 RUN HOMER IS THE FIRST HIT BY THE PHILLIES pic.twitter.com/nrNHIhQCGx— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) July 22, 2016
And Mackanin was a bit of a psychic: the Phillies entered the night actually hitting .220 at home. It wasn't until they went 3-for-31 as a team on Thursday night that their average at Citizens Bank Park dipped down to .218.
After finally coming together in their home ballpark just before the break, scoring 30 runs in taking five of six games against the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, the Phils began the second half by dropping five of seven games to the Marlins and New York Mets, scoring just 17 runs in those seven games.
The Phillies entered Thursday hitting .260/.309/.419 in 46 games on the road and .220/.276/.356 in 50 games at home.
"I don’t know man, it’s crazy," Galvis said of the drastic home and road splits. "We were talking about it. I don’t know if we try to do too much here at home, but every time we go on the road, we click, man. Everything goes good, you know? But every time we come home ... we don’t hit the ball that good. I don’t know if it’s a little bit of us trying to do too much here. And if we’re trying to do too much, it’s not going to happen. We have to just let it go and do what we have to do, and that’s it."
The good news for the Phillies offense: with the Democratic National Convention heading into town in the next few days and a west coast trip at the beginning of next month, they will play 16 of their next 19 games away from Citizens Bank Park in the next three weeks.