Mark Leiter Jr.

Injury updates on Tommy Hunter, Jerad Eickhoff

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Injury updates on Tommy Hunter, Jerad Eickhoff

Playing nine of the first 14 games against the lowly Marlins, Reds and Rays has been helpful for Gabe Kapler and the Phillies, but it's still impressive that the Phils have won three consecutive series with so many pitchers on the disabled list.

One-third of the Phillies' projected opening-day pitching staff — relievers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, starter Jerad Eickhoff and swingman Mark Leiter Jr. — began the season on the DL.

The highest-priced arm of that group, Hunter, is the closest to returning. Hunter (hamstring) threw 15 pitches and got four outs in a controlled situation of an extended spring training game Saturday in Clearwater. He believes he is ready to go. 

"Me personally, yes, but it's not my decision," Hunter said when asked if he's ready to return. He said he would defer to team officials and the Phils' medical staff. 

The Phillies are expected to err on the side of caution and give Hunter one more tune-up before activating him next week. There could be more on the team's plans for Hunter later Sunday.

Eickhoff (lat) is optimistic but is farther away. He threw lightly off a bullpen mound Saturday and said he feels much better. He needs a full build-up, though, with the progression including bullpen sessions, live batting practice and then game action in the minors — essentially a spring training. Mid-to-late May seems realistic for Eickhoff.

If the Phils' rotation continues to pitch well, it will be interesting to see how and where they slot Eickhoff in once he has fully rehabbed. Healthwise, these situations tend to work themselves out.

Since losing 15-2 to the Braves in their third game of the season, the Phillies' starting rotation has the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.69. They also have the lowest home run rate in the majors over that span (0.4 per nine innings) and the NL's second-lowest WHIP (1.08).

Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff

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Ben Lively states his case for spot on Phillies' pitching staff

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies will be without Mark Leiter Jr.'s versatile arm for about six weeks. An MRI performed Monday on the pitcher's sore right forearm showed a strained flexor muscle.

Leiter had a good chance to make the opening day roster as a long reliever or fifth starter. With him out, the Phillies could be in need of a swingman.

Could Ben Lively be that guy?

"I can pitch anywhere," the competitive 26-year-old right-hander said. "I don't care. Wherever they want, I'll pitch."

Lively did nothing to hurt his chances of making the club as he turned in five shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays in a rain-shortened 2-0 win Tuesday afternoon. He allowed just three hits, walked none and struck out four. He was particularly impressive in the fourth inning, striking out Justin Smoak and retiring Russell Martin on a tapper back to the mound with runners on second and third.

"I just tried to bear down and stick to the game plan," Lively said. "There's too much technology around here now. We have all the heat maps and we talked about it before the game and I just stayed with it."

Lively made 15 starts with the big club last year and 10 of them were quality starts in which he went at least six innings and gave up three or fewer earned runs. Lively doesn't have power stuff. He gave up 9.1 hits per nine innings last season and struck out just 5.3 per nine. Management would love to see some improvement in those areas — i.e., more of what he displayed on Tuesday.

"Lively was strong today," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He came out and attacked the zone.

"One of the things that is important is that we see some swing and misses with Lives and we saw a couple of bat-missing moments today that were, to me, a big deal. He induces quick contact, which is important, but we also like to see the ability to miss bats and we saw that on a couple of occasions, (Curtis) Granderson being most notable."

Granderson struck out twice against Lively.

"We look at past tendencies from recent years," Lively said of his pregame study. "The main one we looked at today was Granderson. He has a low slugging percentage on the outer half (of the plate), so we pounded him on the outer half the whole time."

With Jerad Eickhoff headed to the disabled list and Nick Pivetta likely to join Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez in the starting rotation, Lively appears to be vying for the fifth starter's job with Zach Eflin and non-roster invite Drew Hutchison. But he and Hutchison also could be vying for a long man's job in the bullpen.

By mid-April, the Phillies will probably have an eight-man bullpen. But they could break with an extra reliever because they won't need a fifth starter until April 11.

However it shakes out, Lively did not hurt his chances of landing some role with his performance Tuesday.

Roster moves
The Phillies sent catcher Logan Moore, infielder Mitch Walding and outfielder Andrew Pullin to minor-league camp.

Jake Arrieta is ready for game action; Mark Leiter Jr. is hurting

Jake Arrieta is ready for game action; Mark Leiter Jr. is hurting

FORT MYERS, Fla. — Good news, bad news on the Phillies’ pitching front.

The good: Jake Arrieta will make his first Grapefruit League appearance of the spring when he gets the start Thursday against the Detroit Tigers in Clearwater.

Arrieta signed with the Phillies a week ago and threw a simulated game Saturday (see story). He will throw a side bullpen session Tuesday then be ready for Thursday’s start. It's still not clear when he will make his regular-season debut. Arrieta believes he will be ready to pitch during the first week of the season. Phillies management is taking a long-range view and will exercise caution in turning him loose. Either way, Arrieta projects to make 30 or more starts once he’s ready.

Now, the bad news:

Pitcher Mark Leiter Jr. headed to Philadelphia for tests on his right forearm. Leiter has been experiencing some tightness and soreness in the forearm, according to manager Gabe Kapler.

This is tough news for Leiter, who early in camp had impressed management with his performance and ability to pitch in a starting or relief role. Ten days before opening day, it’s likely that Leiter will have to open the season on the disabled list.

Starter Jerad Eickhoff will open the season on the DL with a right lat strain. It is not considered serious, but he is projected to be out into May.