Jerad Eickhoff hitting location, but Pete Mackanin wants to see more curveballs

Jerad Eickhoff hitting location, but Pete Mackanin wants to see more curveballs

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Jerad Eickhoff was scheduled to pitch four innings in his third start of the spring, but the heart of the Toronto Blue Jays' order made sure that didn't happen.

Eickhoff gave up seven hits and four runs in three innings of work Thursday in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to the Jays (see story). He ran into trouble in the second inning when he gave up a two-run triple to Ryan Goins and again in the fourth inning when Jarrod Saltalamacchia took him deep over the right field wall.

"Results-wise, looking at the scoreboard, it wasn't what I wanted, but actually I located a lot more fastballs than I had in previous outings that I was really happy with," Eickhoff said. "I think just leading up to the end of the at-bats when they were getting hits, I didn't set up the pitches like I wanted to and that resulted in good swings."

Manager Pete Mackanin said didn’t think Eickhoff's location was where it needed to be, but more importantly, he felt like he didn’t show his curveball enough.

“We talk to him about mixing his pitches up and he didn't do that today,” Mackanin said. “Too many fastballs for a fastball-hitting team. He didn't mix it up enough. You see he's got that great curveball and you saw when he struck a few guys out they were [overmatched].”

Eickhoff struck out three, mostly on his 76 mph curveball, and walked two.

Mackanin said that what Eickhoff is doing during the spring isn’t a big concern of his as long as he is where he needs to be during the season. It’s during the season when Eickhoff will be expected to be one of the centerpieces of the starting rotation.

"I’m solid with Eickhoff," Mackanin said. "I feel very comfortable with him. I don't measure what he does in spring training by that much. What he does during the season, which I've seen, is important to me."

That being said, Eickhoff understands that his timing will have to improve as the spring goes on and he'll have to continue to show batters his secondary pitches to keep hitters from getting too comfortable at the plate. Attention to such details will help Eickhoff make the jump that the Phillies would like to see him in his third year with the team.

"It just takes time," Eickhoff said. "It takes the routine of the pitches to get out there and the reps and just getting in that atmosphere on the mound in front of those hitters. Like I said, I didn't set them up the way I probably like to. I did not execute the sliders like I usually do and that allowed them to sit on the fastball."

Right now Mackanin suspects Eickhoff and most of the pitchers are trying different things on the mound and trying certain pitches in situations they might not otherwise. Mackanin credits Eickhoff for improving in some areas, like holding runners, and now believes it’s just going to be about consistency and execution.

"It's just a matter of knowing the hitters, following the game plan and being able to command your pitches," Mackanin said. "That's what it boils down to."

Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

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Phillies well positioned to make a run at freed Braves' prospects

Teams all over baseball, including the Phillies, are ready to pounce on a bevy of young international talent that became available Tuesday.

Major League Baseball punished the Atlanta Braves for a host of international signing violations by stripping the club of 13 minor-league prospects (see story). MLB also banished former Braves general manager John Coppolella from working in the game for life.

In the summer of 2016, MLB found the Boston Red Sox in violation of international signing rules and stripped that club of five international prospects. Included in that group was Simon Muzziotti, an outfielder from Venezuela. The Red Sox had initially signed Muzziotti for $300,000 in 2015. He was declared a free agent a year later and the Phillies swooped in and signed him for $750,000. Now 18, Muzziotti played for the Phillies' Gulf Coast League team in 2017.

The list of players set free on Tuesday includes 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan, who received a $4.25 million signing bonus in 2016. Six other players that received signing bonuses of $1 million or more were also set free. The group includes Venezuelan catcher Abrahan Gutierrez, who received a $3.53 million bonus and Dominican infielder Yunior Severino, who received a $1.9 million bonus.

The Phillies are well positioned to make a run at some of these new international free agents and past practice says they will. The club added to its current international signing pool in a couple of trades last summer and has about $900,000 remaining. More money can be acquired in trades and applied to the current pool. A team can also use money from next year's pool — that market opens in July — to sign a player, though those funds cannot be used to augment the current pool.

Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani is the prize of this winter's international market. While the deep-pocketed Phillies have interest in Otani, he is subject to international signing bonus rules and pool limits. Translation: Signing him is not simply a matter of being the highest bidder. The team that gets Otani will likely be a contender in win-now mode with a history of signing Japanese talent. An American League club that could offer Otani at-bats (he wants to hit, as well as pitch) would be the best fit.

So, the Phillies' international splash this winter could come from the fallout of the Braves' signing controversy.

The former Braves' prospects are eligible to begin signing with new clubs on Dec. 5. They are:

Kevin Maitan, SS
Juan Contreras, RHP
Yefri del Rosario, RHP
Abrahan Gutierrez, C
Juan Carlos Negret, OF
Yenci Pena, SS
Yunior Severino, 2B
Livan Soto, SS
Guillermo Zuniga, RHP
Brandol Mezquita, OF
Angel Rojas, SS
Antonio Sucre, OF
Ji-Hwan Bae, SS

MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

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MLB Notes: Braves lose 13 international players in sanctions

ATLANTA -- Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred hit the Atlanta Braves with heavy sanctions, including the loss of 13 players, on Tuesday for rules violations committed by the team in the international player market.

Manfred also placed former Braves general manager John Coppolella on the permanently ineligible list. Former Braves Special Assistant Gordon Blakeley, who was the team's international scouting chief, is suspended from performing services for any team for one year.

Manfred said an investigation conducted by Major League Baseball determined the Braves circumvented international signing rules from 2015 through 2017 by moving bonus pool money from one player to boost another player's contract.

Most notable among the players the Braves will lose is Kevin Maitan, an infielder from Venezuela who signed for $4.25 million in 2016 (see full story).

Yankees: Judge has left shoulder surgery
NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees say slugger Aaron Judge had arthroscopic surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to be ready for spring training.

The operation was performed Monday by Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles. The Yankees say the procedure involved a loose-body removal and cartilage cleanup.

The 25-year-old Judge hit .284 with 52 homers and 114 RBIs in 155 games this season, helping New York make it to the AL Championship Series, where they lost to the eventual World Series champion Astros. He was a unanimous selection for AL Rookie of the Year and finished second to Houston infielder Jose Altuve in the AL MVP race.

MLB: Morgan urges voters to keep steroid users out of HOF
Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan is urging voters to keep "known steroid users" out of Cooperstown.

A day after the Hall revealed its 33-man ballot for the 2018 class, the 74-year-old Morgan argued against the inclusion of players implicated during baseball's steroid era in a letter to voters with the Baseball Writers' Association of America. The letter from the vice chairman of the Hall's board of directors was sent Tuesday using a Hall email address.

"Steroid users don't belong here," Morgan wrote. "What they did shouldn't be accepted. Times shouldn't change for the worse."

Hall voters have been wrestling with the issue of performance-enhancing drugs for several years. Baseball held a survey drug test in 2003 and the sport began testing for banned steroids the following year with penalties. Accusations connected to some of the candidates for the Hall vary in strength from allegations with no evidence to positive tests that caused suspensions (see full story).

Cubs: Venable leaves front office to be base coach
CHICAGO -- Will Venable is leaving the Chicago Cubs front office to be their first base coach.

The former major league outfielder was hired last summer as a special assistant to president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer.

The 35-year-old Venable replaces Brandon Hyde, who has been promoted to bench coach for manager Joe Maddon.

The Cubs also announced Tuesday that they had hired Jim Benedict as a special assistant to baseball operations. Benedict spent the previous two seasons as the vice president for pitching development for the Miami Marlins.