The Philadelphia Phillies pitchers and catchers just reported to spring training, and already there are questions regarding a member of the starting rotation.
At last season’s trade deadline, the Phillies sent veteran starting pitcher Cole Hamels and hard-throwing lefty reliever Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers. In return the Phils received a 6-player package that included a number of top prospects.
One of the prospects coming to Philly in that deal was right-handed pitcher Jerad Eickhoff. Not much was expected of the 25-year old at the time. In his evaluation in December of 2014, respected analyst John Sickels had not ranked Eickhoff among Texas’ top 20 prospects.
During the 2015 minor league season, Eickhoff had performed well prior to the deal, fashioning a 10-4 record mostly at AAA Round Rock. He had allowed just 102 hits in 111.2 innings, with a 107/36 K:BB ratio. The Phillies liked what they saw, liked that he was close to big league ready, and had him included in the trade.
The Phillies assigned him to AAA Lehigh Valley, and Eickhoff continued his strong season by winning two of his three starts, allowing 17 hits in 21.2 innings with a 19/3 K:BB ratio. Clearly he was ready for a shot at Major League Baseball, and the Phils would give it to him.
Called up to make his first start on August 21st of last season, Eickhoff shut out the Miami Marlins over six innings, allowing just five hits. It was a sign of things to come.
Eickhoff would make eight starts in all, seven of those of the Quality Start variety, meaning he allowed three earned runs or less and pitched at least six innings. In his final four starts, Eickhoff went seven innings each time out. He allowed just 17 hits with a 33/7 K:BB ratio in those starts, and reached 10 K’s in each of the final two outings.
In short, Eickhoff was a true revelation. His combination of age, experience, and performance quickly solidified his place as a regular member of the starting rotation, and he has been penned into that 2016 Phillies rotation for months now.
However, as those pitchers and catchers reported to Bright House Field, a problem regarding Eickhoff came to light. Turns out that the pitcher had reported to camp early, and suffered a small fracture on his right thumb while performing bunting drills last week.
Now he will fall behind. He is limited to playing catch lightly, and will not be allowed to throw off a mound again until he can put pressure on the thumb. That could be two to three weeks, depending on how the thumb responds.
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As quoted by CSNPhilly.com insider Jim Salisbury, Eickhoff believes the injury will have little effect on his preparations or his season: “It’s nothing serious…We have a lot of time to get it to 100 percent.”
This is true in the grand scheme of things. Nothing much is expected of the club this season, and the team has other options, so there is absolutely no need to rush Eickhoff.
However, his outstanding performance a year ago had excited Phillies fans. For me, the righty was the single most interesting player this spring. Could he repeat and sustain his 2015 level of performance?
Eickhoff and the team each believe that he will be ready to go by the time the regular season gets under way. As long as there are no setbacks with the injury, that should probably be the case.
The Phillies certainly don’t need these types of questions with key players so early in the spring training process. Let’s hope that this is indeed a temporary blip, and that Eickhoff is back and producing as the Grapefruit League season unfolds.