The Philadelphia Phillies 2016 starting pitching rotation is almost locked in place already, four weeks before spring training even begins.
Earlier this week, Phils’ manager Pete Mackanin held a press conference in which he addressed a number of topics. Our editor Matt Veasey looked at one of the important parts of that conference when he discussed the possibility of Ryan Howard being platooned.
While that certainly is of interest to the fan base, one of the other things which Mackanin addressed was the current state of the team’s starting pitching rotation.
When asked who would be a part of that rotation, Mackanin stated that righthanders Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, both acquired over the winter in separate trades, are basically set in stone. Their salaries and past big league experience has earned them the chance to be considered among the top five.
"“I don’t want to etch anything in stone, but Nola and Eickhoff certainly have made great impressions,” Mackanin said. “I would think they would be in the rotation somewhere, but that remains to be seen. You never know what can happen. But those two guys, Nola and Eickhoff, for me are in the rotation.”"
The question remains: should those two less experienced pitchers, Nola and Eickhoff, automatically be included in the Phillies top five?
Aaron Nola probably isn’t a question mark. In terms of talent, he may already be the best starting pitcher on the ball club. His results last year suggest that he is capable of leading the staff at this point. Is he an ace? Probably not. But he’s the closest thing the team has to one right now.
Eickhoff is a more interesting case. He came out of relatively nowhere last year to post solid numbers (24.1 K%, 6.4 BB%, 2.75 DRA in 51.1 innings) after coming over in the Cole Hamels trade.
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He was never seen as anything more than a backend rotation piece, but as Veasey covered in a piece earlier this month, his strong showing hinted that there is perhaps a little more there than was realized at the time of the deal. All in all, on paper, he should be a lock to stay in the rotation, right?
My concern is that Eickhoff did this on his first go-around in the big leagues. It is not uncommon for a pitcher to have success against opposing teams the first time he faces them, because their scouting reports and dossiers on the pitcher haven’t been filled out totally.
Eickhoff, through luck and scheduling, faced the eventual National League champion New York Mets three times after his call-up, and did progressively better each time he faced them. In his third start, he finished with seven innings of four-hit, no-run, 10-strikeout baseball. But it remains a small sample size of success.
He does possess the stuff to get out Major League hitters, but there is almost no one that expects Eickhoff to continue posting the numbers he did last season, especially over his final four starts when he lasted at least seven innings in each, and appeared dominating at times.
Can he do it? Of course – he’s done it already. The fear is that big league hitters will catch up once the book is out on him, and then what will happen next? Will Eickhoff be able to adjust?
It’s doubtful that any of this will enter into his mind frame as he preps for the 2016 season, but the questions still need to be asked. It’s not a surprise based on his 2015 results that Eickhoff has basically been given a rotation spot. As I stated previously, that late season audition more than merits such respect.
I just hope that if the Phillies coaching staff sees a struggling pitcher in spring training down in Clearwater next month and into March, they don’t simply feed him to the wolves, hoping that he “figures it out” on a big league mound.