Tommy Hunter

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).

Top Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez is ready to go

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Top Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez is ready to go

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Less than three weeks after departing spring training, the Phillies are back in Pinellas County for the weekend.

While much of their attention will be focused on Tropicana Field and the team's interleague series with the Rays, Phillies officials will also sneak a peek at what’s going on 20 minutes up the road in their spring home of Clearwater.

Reliever Tommy Hunter, who opened the season on the disabled list with a hamstring strain, will test the injury with some work in an extended spring training game at Carpenter Complex on Saturday.

Manager Gabe Kapler said the team would evaluate Hunter after the outing and decide if he needs another test drive. Either way, Hunter, who signed a two-year, $18 million contract with the club in December, should be ready to be activated sometime next week, possibly during the Phils’ three-game series in Atlanta, which begins Monday.

Also in Clearwater this weekend, prized pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez will make his season debut for the Single A Clearwater Threshers. He will start against the Bradenton Marauders (Pittsburgh) on Sunday afternoon at Spectrum Field.

Sanchez was slowed by the flu early in spring training and the team took a conservative approach in getting him ready for the season. He has been seeing action in extended spring training games and word is his crackling fastball has hit triple digits on the radar gun.

Sanchez, 19, is a power-armed right-hander with remarkable control. He went 5-7 with a 3.03 ERA in 18 starts at Lakewood and Clearwater, both Single A affiliates, last season. He pitched 95 innings, struck out 84, walked 18 and had a WHIP of 0.958. He turns 20 in July and could reach Double A later this season if he continues to progress.

Sanchez will be watched closely on Sunday and could be on a pitch limit as he eases into action. The Phillies, as they do with most of their young pitching prospects, will carefully monitor his workload throughout the season.

Phillies place Pat Neshek on disabled list

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Phillies place Pat Neshek on disabled list

ATLANTA — The Phillies spent the spring talking about keeping their players healthy and implementing plans to do so.

And now, two days into the regular season, they have four pitchers on the disabled list.

Reliever Pat Neshek joined Tommy Hunter, Jerad Eickhoff and Mark Leiter Jr. on the DL Thursday. He has a right shoulder strain that he described in contrasting terms.

“It’s not anything major, I don’t think,” he said at first.

Later, he said the injury “could be something serious.”

Neshek will have tests Saturday to determine the exact severity of the injury.

The pitcher said he started feeling discomfort in the back of his shoulder during his final spring training outing. The 37-year-old right-hander knows his body — he’s a Tommy John surgery veteran — and he’s never previously felt pain in the back of the shoulder.

“That’s what’s kind of weirding me out a little,” he said.

The Phillies recalled right-handed reliever Yacksel Rios from Triple A to take Neshek’s place.

Neshek signed a two-year, $16.25 million contract with the Phillies in December. He was one of two veteran bullpen additions, the other being Hunter, who signed a two-year, $18 million contract. Hunter is out with a hamstring injury that is not considered serious.

Neshek was not available to pitch in Thursday’s season opener, a troubling loss in which the Phillies’ blew a 5-0 lead after manager Gabe Kapler removed starting pitcher Aaron Nola after 68 pitches (see story). The Phillies’ bullpen gave up seven runs and lost the game, 8-7, on a walk-off three-run homer by Atlanta’s Nick Markakis.

“It sucks, it’s terrible,” Neshek said of not being able to help out in that game. “You just feel like a bum at the end.”