March 19, 2017
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – The appearance of Tommy Joseph’s name on the list of backups for the Phillies' road trip to take on the Tampa Bay Rays was a hopeful sign for the first baseman and the team at large on Saturday morning.
Joseph had been plunked with a pitch on the inside of his left hand (just below his pinky finger) on Tuesday. He missed each of the next four games but did take batting practice with his teammates on Saturday in Clearwater, Fla.
The hitting session went well enough for Joseph that he remained on the travel roster for the near-two-hour trip to Port Charlotte on Sunday. His return was well timed.
Joseph entered the game as a defensive replacement for Brock Stassi in the bottom of the fifth, and when he came to the plate for the first time in five days in the eighth, the Phillies were five outs away from being on the losing end of a perfect game.
Joseph's bat didn’t show any rust, however, as he wasted little time swatting a one-out double into the gap in left-center, sending the second pitch he saw all the way to the warning track. Joseph returned to active duty by spoiling the Rays’ perfect game and no-hit bid in the Phillies 8-0 defeat.
“It’s just nice to get it out of the way,” Joseph said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, it’s just got to happen at some point. We all want to compete. Nobody wants to be on the losing end of a no-hitter.”
But at least it was nice that your stroke was there after a bit of a layoff, right?
“Yeah, it’s nice to come back in and feel comfortable right away,” he said. “But one at-bat, it’s hard to tell if you’ve still got it.
Joseph’s double was one of two hits the Phillies collected on Sunday: Tyler Goeddel singled in the ninth. Before Goeddel’s hit, the Phillies were in danger of being one-hit for the second time in the last five days.
Freddy Galvis broke up a no-hitter against the Yankees in Tampa on Wednesday night with a single to lead off the seventh inning. And that was the second time the Phils bats fired blanks in Tampa: they didn’t have a baserunner in their first five innings against the Yankees on Feb. 24.
Which makes the following fact a little surprising: the Phillies are actually in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories this spring, including tied with the Chicago Cubs in hits (albeit with two additional games in hand). But spring statistics are, well, spring statistics and it’s also factually accurate that the Phillies were arguably baseball’s worst offensive team a year ago (last in OPS and runs scored), with most of the same players back in the lineup for 2017.
“We're not this bad,” manager Pete Mackanin said after Sunday’s loss. “We're going to improve offensively.”
Three of the Phillies regulars started Sunday’s game – Cesar Hernandez, Galvis, and Cameron Rupp – and a fourth (Joseph) entered for the latter half of the game.
Pete Mackanin probably said it best at the beginning of his postgame remarks on Sunday.
“The only good thing I can say about today was Eickhoff,” the manager said. “He was outstanding.”
And the 26-year-old right-hander was exactly that, looking as good as he’s ever looked in a Phillies uniform. In his fifth start of the spring, Eickhoff struck out nine of the 22 batters he faced (including collecting eight Ks from the middle three orders in Tampa’s lineup), he didn’t walk a batter, and he allowed two runs on four hits in six innings.
Eickhoff’s curveball was in midseason form and he was able to fool Rays batters with his changeup, too. Mackanin even was able to look beyond the one blemish on Eickhoff’s pitching line.
“The guy who hit the home run,” Mackanin said, referring to Chris Dickerson’s solo shot to lead off the sixth, “it was a spring training home run. Hanging curveball.”
Eickhoff will start the second game of the regular season in Cincinnati in on April 5. But the man named the Phillies’ Opening Day starter on Sunday, Jeremy Hellickson, said he thought the honor should have gone to Eickhoff.
“I think a lot of Jeremy and he's done so much in this game so for him to say that, that's very cool to hear,” Eickhoff said. “Like I said, he's done a lot in this game and he deserves it as much as anybody. It's fun to just watch him go about his business and go through a lineup like he does. It's a tremendous honor for him for sure.”
Eickhoff was asked what it’s been like to emerge from “one of the prospects” the team received back from Cole Hamels to the face of the talented, young pitching staff behind Eickhoff in the Phillies deep staff of starters.
“I always knew what I could do,” Eickhoff said. “I was just kind of thrown in [the Hamels deal], people say that. But I knew what I could do. I knew my mentality and how I go about my business so I had confidence in that. To be given the opportunity and to be able to succeed as I have thus far, I've been very fortunate with that, very blessed to have that.
“It's a continuing process. I'm always looking to get better. Guys like (Aaron) Nola, he's a special pitcher. Guys like (Zach) Eflin, those guys have special talent so to work with them and grow up with them – I'm really lucky to be in that position.”