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.