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).