Phillies

Despite wild loss, Phillies' Eickhoff and Williams continue to show promise

Despite wild loss, Phillies' Eickhoff and Williams continue to show promise

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Nick Williams and Jerad Eickhoff gave Phillies manager Pete Mackanin everything he was hoping to see Thursday night, except a win.

Hours before a disappointing 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels in which Luis Garcia allowed the go-ahead run to score on a wild pitch (see Instant Replay), Mackanin was in the tiny visiting manager’s office discussing how Williams needed to be more selective as a hitter and Eickhoff more precise in his pitching. 

Both areas were addressed. Williams’ patience led to a two-run home run to start his strong 3-for-4 outing, while Eickhoff responded well after a poor start.

Eickhoff knew he was asking for trouble after starting the game with a walk, bringing up Mike Trout in a most undesirable situation for even the best pitcher. The right-hander was trying to test Trout in their first-ever duel, opening with two fastballs followed by four curveballs. The last pitch broke at the thighs, and the only question left was where the ball would land.

It ended up in left-center between the bullpen and faux rock work.

“It didn’t look good,” Mackanin said. “He wasn’t pitching well, springing the ball all over the place. But, boy, did he settle down and did a heck of a job after that.”

Over his final five innings of work, Eickhoff gave up just one more earned run, though Odubel Herrera helped out to prevent a two-run homer with a leaping grab in the fourth inning. When Kaleb Cowart doubled to lead off the fourth, it was two fly ball outs that brought him home. Eickhoff did not compound the problem by letting more men reach base.   

His control became infectious.

“I was trying to force it instead of just letting things happen,” Eickhoff said. “I was just missing with the fastball there, just missing with the slider, so it was kind of those things where you’ve got to make adjustments and I think I was able to do that for the most part in the last two or three innings.”

Mackanin likened the learning curve for Eickhoff to what Aaron Nola has gone through since last season.

“You know how good Nola was and then he wasn’t very good, and now he’s really good,” Mackanin said before the game.

Eickhoff showed signs of the same maturation.

And what was able to help Eickhoff settle back into the game was an immediate response in the second inning by Williams. 

Used as the designated hitter for the first time, the 23-year-old showed he can hit more than a fastball. It was an 84-mph changeup that Williams deposited in left-center for his fifth career homer. 

Williams got to see some fastballs after that, adding doubles in the sixth and eighth innings. It was his ninth multi-hit game in 27 appearances at the major-league level.

“You prove you can hit it, they’ve got to go to something else,” Williams said. “It bothered me yesterday, I guess that they didn’t think I could hit off-speed. Made the adjustment.” 

Mackanin, a self-admitted “overly aggressive” hitter who only figured out what he needed to do near the end of a nine-year MLB career, understands how challenging that adjustment can be. He believes it can’t be taught. Either a player figures it out or he busts out.

“You have to get to a point where you learn how to do it, and it’s hard to do,” Mackanin said before the game. “That’s the $64,000 — $64 million these days — question is how do you get a guy to understand that?”

Freddy Galvis added two more RBIs, and Eickhoff left after six innings in position to get the win.  

The Phillies didn’t get the victory because of a bullpen breakdown. 

If Williams and Eickhoff keep improving and can harness what they showed at Angel Stadium on a consistent basis, Mackanin should see everything he is hoping to see, including the win. 

Phillies part with last man in Cole Hamels trade, demote Nick Pivetta, add reliever Connor Brogdon

Phillies part with last man in Cole Hamels trade, demote Nick Pivetta, add reliever Connor Brogdon

The Phillies on Tuesday made some changes to the worst bullpen in the majors.

Promising right-hander Connor Brogdon and veteran Blake Parker were both promoted from the team’s reserve camp in Lehigh Valley. 

In corresponding moves, the Phillies optioned pitcher Nick Pivetta to the camp in Lehigh Valley. That move came the day after he was torched for six hits and six runs in the ninth inning of Monday’s 13-8 win over Atlanta.

To make room for Brogdon and Parker on the 40-man roster, the Phillies designated reliever Trevor Kelley and outfielder Nick Williams for assignment.

The removal of Williams from the roster was hardly surprising, but it was certainly noteworthy. Williams, 26, came to the Phillies in one of the biggest trades that the club has made in recent years, the deal that sent Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman to the Texas Rangers on July 31, 2015.

In addition to Williams, the Phillies picked up catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitchers Jerad Eickhoff, Jake Thompson and Alec Asher in the deal. Five years later, all of those players have moved on. J.T. Realmuto, acquired from Miami in February 2019 for a package that included Alfaro, represents the last vestige of that deal. He will be eligible for free agency after this season.

Williams played parts of three seasons in the majors with the Phils. He hit .269 with 29 homers, 105 RBIs and a .776 OPS in 720 at-bats in 2017 and 2018 but could not solidify a spot in the team’s future plans. When the Phils signed corner outfielders Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper to long-term deals before the 2019 season, Williams’ days with the club became numbered because he’s only capable of playing corner outfield spots. Williams struggled mightily in limited time in the majors last season. He fell out of favor with management and openly longed for the change of scenery he will get if he is traded or picked up on waivers by another club.

Pivetta was also acquired in a trade in the summer of 2015. He also could be in need of a change of scenery after a poor season in 2019 and a poor start to this season. He allowed 10 hits and 10 runs in 5 2/3 innings before being sent out Tuesday. According to a source with another big-league club, the Phillies are open to trading Pivetta, but that’s hardly a surprise.

The Phillies entered Tuesday night’s game against Baltimore with the worst bullpen ERA in the majors at 9.87. The starters, meanwhile, had an ERA of 3.20, fifth best in the majors.

Parker spent some time with the Phillies last season.

Brogdon, 25, pitched at three levels of the Phillies’ system last season and had a 2.61 ERA in 51 games. The lanky righty has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and an excellent changeup. He struck out 106 and walked just 24 in 76 innings last season. The Phillies actually considered bringing up Brogdon late last season. Now, he’s here.

“There’s a lot of upside with Connor,” manager Joe Girardi said.

In other bullpen news, David Robertson and Ranger Suarez are both scheduled to throw bullpen sessions at Citizens Bank Park in the coming days before joining the 60-man player pool in Lehigh Valley. Robertson had Tommy John surgery a year ago. The Phillies hope he can make it back to help during the final month of the season. Suarez could also help. He is building strength after being in COVID protocol.

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Phillies Spencer Howard picks his favorite MLB uniform, hints at a number change

Phillies Spencer Howard picks his favorite MLB uniform, hints at a number change

Spencer Howard's first career start with the Phillies over the weekend wasn't a storybook debut - but in such an unusual season, and considering the high expectations, it also could've been way worse. 

He flashed some good stuff, struck out his last batter, and came away with some building blocks for his next appearance.

Howard appeared on former Phillie Kevin Frandsen's podcast to chat about his MLB debut, including what went well, what he wants to improve, and - most importantly - baseball uniforms.

Because the youngster managed to make his major league debut in the Phillies' throwback blues, lending a little extra stylish pizazz to what was already a big day, both for Howard and the organization:

Frandsen asked Howard during the podcast what his first thought was when he saw his own uniform hanging in the Phillies' clubhouse, and Howard had a fantastic answer:

HOWARD: That those are probably the best unis in baseball, man, the baby blues.

FRANDSEN: And you got to make your debut in that!

[...]

HOWARD: It's so pretty, they're so comfortable. It was incredible.

While Phillies fans will likely see Howard in the greys or the red pinstripes more often than not, it's probably so cool to make your first start in a universally-beloved throwback uniform.

A little later on during the appearance, Frandsen asked Howard about a sneaky big part of a player's identity: the number!

FRANDSEN: Are you a big number guy? Did you want a certain number? Were you hoping for a certain number? Did you want to keep 83?

HOWARD: No, I - definitely not 83 [laughs] - I'm not too big on it, but I think 48 is nice. I was more curious, than anything, to see what they'd give me.

FRANDSEN: What did you want? 

HOWARD: Out of all the available ones, I was shooting for 28, maybe? Hoping?

Frandsen, of course, pointed out that he wore No. 28 with the Phillies. A true legend. The most notable recent Phillie to wear No. 28? Jayson Werth, from 2007 to 2010. Since then, Frandsen, Kevin Correia, Erik Kratz, Vince Velasquez, and Mike Morin have donned the number. 

A decade between important players feels like enough time for Howard to claim the No. 28, if he feels like making the switch.

Or he could stick with No. 48, a number without much significant Phillies history, and make it his own. Up to him.

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