The calendar turns to May next week and that month will offer more evidence of whether this Phillies team is for real or just the latest example of a club that captured some imaginations with a hot start.
May will also bring some interesting personnel decisions for the front office as three pitchers — relievers Pat Neshek and Mark Leiter Jr. and starter Jerad Eickhoff — near reinstatement from the disabled list (more on Neshek here).
General manager Matt Klentak spoke enthusiastically about Eickhoff’s progress on Wednesday and said the right-hander, who is recovering from a strained lat muscle, would go back in the rotation when he’s ready, probably in the latter part of the month.
Who will go when Eickhoff returns?
It’s not going to be Jake Arrieta, Aaron Nola or Nick Pivetta, and team officials might want to give Vince Velasquez more of a look before they deal with the long talked-about issue of whether his future is as a starter or a reliever. That leaves Ben Lively as a likely image in the crosshairs. It’s up to the 26-year-old righty to not make himself an easy target and he can do that by pitching well, by doing what a No. 5 starter needs to do: keep his team in games.
Lively had done that in his first four starts this season, but he took a step backward on Thursday and was tagged for seven runs in 2 1/3 innings in an 8-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks (see first take).
Lively can’t afford many similar performances if he wants to stay out of the front office’s crosshairs.
“He just didn’t have his best fastball,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “That’s a really good lineup and if you don’t have your best stuff, they’re going to punish you.”
Lively gave up a base hit and a home run on the first three pitches he threw. Arizona sent nine men to the plate in the first inning.
“I guarantee they saw that I was missing over the plate with my fastballs and they were ready for it and every single one I threw over the plate got hit really hard,” Lively said.
Lively offered that he had trouble getting loose and felt some stiffness in his lower back that caused his pitches to leak over the plate.
“I’m not going to blame this on that,” he said. “I still have to make my pitches.”
Arizona owns the NL’s best record. The Phils won one of the three games in the series. They stand at 15-9 while Arizona is 17-7.
“A three-game series is no indication that one team is better than the other,” Kapler said. “We can definitely play with those guys. We can play with anybody in this league. I feel very confident in our team.”
“We came into today with a chance to win a series,” Rhys Hoskins said. “That’s all you can ask for. It didn’t go the way we wanted it to, but we’ve got a series coming up against the Braves, a divisional series that can get us right back to where we want to be.”
Nola gets the ball in Friday night’s series opener and that’s a good place to start for the Phillies. They are 2-4 against the Braves this season.