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June 20, 2017

Who's up next after Phillies place Eickhoff on DL? Here's a trio of intriguing options

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060717.Phils.Eshelman J.J. Horvath /Digital Photographic Imaging

Tom Eshelman has an International League-best 1.68 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in eight starts since joining the IronPigs last month.

For the fourth time in the season’s first 12 weeks, the Phillies have placed a member of their Opening Day rotation on the disabled list.

Jerad Eickhoff was placed on the 10-day DL prior to the start of Tuesday night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals with an upper back strain. Eickhoff pitched six strong innings on Saturday (yielding just one run on five hits) but experienced back tightness during the game and wasn’t able to throw his regular side session in between starts on Tuesday.

“Our doctors are not projecting that this is going to be super serious,” said general manager Matt Klentak, who is hopeful Eickhoff could be back when his 10-day stint expires.

A red flag went up Saturday for Klentak, manager Pete Mackanin, and company when Eickhoff’s velocity was down. His average fastball came in at 88.4 MPH on Saturday night, down a couple of clicks from his average fastball this season (90.7 MPH).

With a little rest, the Phils expect the 26-year-old right-hander to be healthy and strong enough to jump back into the rotation before the All-Star break. But, for the fourth time this season, after Clay Buchholz (flexor tendon tear, still on the DL), Aaron Nola (lower back strain), and Vince Velasquez (elbow flexor strain, still on the DL), the Phillies will need to call on a replacement arm.

Prospects Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin have been called on with mixed results. Both Lively and Pivetta are in the current rotation while Eflin is sidelined at Triple-A with a right elbow injury.

So who’s got next?

“We have several rostered starters in Triple-A,” Klentak said. “We have 13 pitchers here. So we have a few different alternatives. But we'll let the next few days (play out first).”

The Phillies recalled outfielder/first baseman Brock Stassi to take Eickhoff’s spot for the three-game St. Louis series. They could pitch Lively on Friday on regular rest.

But, eventually, they will need a new arm. There are three intriguing options.

Tom Eshelman

The birthday boy (today is his 23rd birthday!) has arguably been the best pitcher in the International League since he was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley from Double-A Reading in early May. Eshelman, a former second-round pick by Houston who came over in the Ken Giles’ trade, has International League-bests in his 1.68 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in eight starts. He’s not overpowering but makes up for it in an ability to limit walks that dates back to his collegiate career at Cal State-Fullerton. Eshelman has 40 strikeouts and 6 walks in 59 innings with the ‘Pigs and 11 total walks in 88 innings this year. He’s currently scheduled to pitch Thursday for Lehigh Valley, so he’d be available. The catch: he’s not on the 40-man roster and the Phillies just created two spots today for left-hander Hoby Milner and outfielder Cameron Perkins (when Michael Saunders and Jeanmar Gomez were designated for assignment).

Mark Leiter Jr.

Perhaps the most likely candidate for a few reasons: he’s already been here (Leiter was on the big league roster for six weeks as a ‘pen piece earlier this season), he’s on the 40-man roster, and he pitched pretty well his last time out (six shutout innings, six strikeouts and not walks on Sunday vs. Syracuse). Similar to fans hoping to see Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens only to get Cameron Perkins, Leiter could be the guy if they don’t believe the other two right-handers are ready. And is Eickhoff is due back in the short-term, Leiter as a spot starter of sorts makes some sense.

Mark Appel

You didn’t think you’d see this name pop up in a story like this a month ago, did you? Like Eshelman, Appel came to the Phillies in the Giles’ trade. Unlike Eshelman, he hasn’t had much success and missed a majority of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. Appel, the No.1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, has been struggled with consistency and command throughout the entirety of his five-season minor league career. But he’s coming off what was arguably the best start of his pro career, throwing 8 1/3 shutout innings on Monday in Pawtucket, striking out eight and walking three. And while he’s still walking too many (16 walks to 22 strikeouts in his last five starts) Appel also has a 1.74 ERA in his last five games, holding opponents to a .225 average and .591 OPS. Appel has held the opposition to three earned runs or fewer in 9 of his 14 starts, is stretched out (he’s gone over 100 pitches in three straight games), is on the 40-man roster, and turns 26 in three weeks. The Phils will eventually need to give him a big league look this season. Perhaps it comes Saturday.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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