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February 27, 2017

Jerad Eickhoff was one of baseball's most dependable starters in '16. How much better can he get?

CLEARWATER, Fla. – There is new signage throughout the Carpenter Complex this spring, including a giant makeshift mural on the edge of the press box at Spectrum Field that greets fans as they come through the turnstiles.

The words “Welcome to Spring Training 2017” are centered around six Phillies players: shortstop Freddy Galvis, the team’s longest-tenured player, starting catcher Cameron Rupp, 2016 Opening Day starter Jeremy Hellickson, 2016 All-Star Odubel Herrera, homegrown power-hitting third baseman Maikel Franco, and right-hander Jerad Eickhoff.

There is no question whether the 26-year-old Eickhoff belongs in the group the rebuilding Phillies are trying to market in 2017. He was as consistent as any single player in 2016.

But maybe it is at least somewhat surprising to see him on the signage there, and on another banner just outside the main employee entrance one floor down, since Eickhoff has only been in the organization for a little more than 18 months and was competing for a job this time a year ago.

“It’s very cool,” said Eickhoff, the first of the prospects acquired from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade to reach the major leagues with the Phillies. “It’s very cool, but I see it as a responsibility to uphold. I continue working. … I have a very high standard for myself and I think a lot of us in here do. We just want to try be the best players that we can and come together as a group and win in any way, shape, or form.”

Eickhoff’s way isn’t necessarily as flashy as some of his rotation mates, like the electric-armed Vince Velasquez or former first-round pick Aaron Nola. But for young pitchers hoping to have lengthy major league careers, substance is superior to style. Results are the only thing that matters.

In 2016, his first full big league season, Eickhoff was one of just 20 major league pitchers who threw at least 190 innings (he threw 197 1/3 innings) and sport a sub-3.70 ERA (3.65). He didn’t miss a start last season and held the opposition to three runs or fewer in 27 of his 33 starts (and allowed more than four runs just three times).

With only 41 career starts to his name, it’s worth wondering just how much better the former 15th-round pick can become in his fledging career.

“He’s a pretty darn good pitcher right now,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said when asked that very question about Eickhoff, who made his 2017 Grapefruit League debut with two innings against the Tampa Bay Rays on Monday. “He’s going to give us 200 innings, he throws strikes, he’s got above average stuff. I think he can be a real good – he’s pretty good right now.

“When you look at last year, he went 2-8 (to start) and then went, what, 10-12. He should have given us 200 innings if it weren’t for a couple of rain delays. Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on. He throws strikes and he knows what he’s doing.”

But even Eickhoff’s ability to bounce back from that aforementioned 2-8 start is a little misleading. He didn’t really have to bounce back, as he sported a 3.93 ERA with the Phillies scoring an average of 2.36 runs per game during that 11-start span.

No matter, Eickhoff certainly finished stronger than he started. He had a 3.14 ERA and a .702 opponents OPS in his final 13 starts, from July 26 to Oct. 2.

“I think a big part of it is the strength guys and the trainers in there, they do a good job of helping me work around things, whether, talking with them I’m feeling a little down and they give us a breather, whether it’d lifting or running,” Eickhoff of staying strong in the marathon that is a major league season. “So we work in unison. They’ve been doing a good job – sometimes they see it and I don’t, telling me, ‘Hey, I think you could use a day just to get some recovery,’ things like that.”

National League pitchers with a sub-3.70 ERA, at least 190 IP in 2016:

  IP ERAAge 
 Max Scherzer  228 1/32.96 31 
 Madison Bumgarner  226 2/3 2.7426 
 Johnny Cueto  219 2/3 2.7930 
Jon Lester   202 2/32.44  32
 Jake Arrieta197 1/3  3.10 30
Carlos Martinez   195 1/3 3.04 24
Tanner Roark  2102.83  29
Kyle Hendricks   1902.13  26
Jerad Eickhoff   197 1/33.65 25 
Bartolo Colon   191 2/33.43  43

*stats via

Durability is as important as dependability for a big league pitcher. Perhaps that’s why despite throwing just 28 pitches in Monday’s game, a 7-2 Phillies loss, Eickhoff needed more than an hour to get in his regimented post-pitching workout routine of running, lifting, and icing.

Someone mentioned the routine possibly being Roy Halladay-esque.

"Well, he was pretty good at what he did," Eickhoff said with a boyish grin. "If he did the same thing, I’d be happy to follow through."

It’s really just how Eickhoff can see checking off the biggest goal on his to-do list again – making every one of his starts – and taking the next step in his young career.

“That’s again a priority, making every start,” he said. “That’s always a priority for me. Incorporating the changeup a little more. Using my slider and curveball both, not getting heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location.”

Eickhoff has changed his changeup grip since last year. If it becomes anywhere near as effective as his knee-buckling curveball, Eickhoff could jump off that poster at Spectrum Field and into the conversation as one of the better under-30 pitchers in the National League, and perhaps like Herrera last year, make a trip to the All-Star Game.

As Mackanin said, the Phillies like what they currently have in Eickhoff: a reliable young starting pitcher they really don’t have to worry about this spring. But what if there’s an even better version of the humble right-hander ready to blossom into something more?

“That’s a good question,” Eickhoff said when asked how much better he thought he could get after one full season on the back of his baseball card.

“I’m always looking to get better,” he continued. “I think the sky is the limit. I’m going to continue working, whether it’s being a Greg Maddux-esque (pitcher) with command, or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux did and guys like that. There’s always something I’m working on and trying to develop and sharpen up.

“I think there are only ways to get better from here on out. I think what I did is good, but I like to just look back, and realize it, but put it behind me and continue to work and know that there’s nothing more than looking ahead.”

And now one of the few Phillies highlights from Monday's exhibition game:


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