Phillies

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

Rays 7, Phillies 2: Mackanin calls Eickhoff 'a pretty darn good pitcher'

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff pitched two innings, allowed a hit, a run, walked one and struck out two in his spring debut on Monday.

Afterward, manager Pete Mackanin was asked what he believed Eickhoff's ceiling was.

"He's a pretty darn good pitcher right now," Mackanin said.

Indeed, he is.

In his first full season in the majors last year, the 26-year-old right-hander led the Phillies' starting staff in ERA (3.65), starts (33) and innings pitched (197 1/3).

He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining three pretty good pitchers named Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. He walked just 1.92 batters per nine innings and that was fourth-best among NL starters.

"Eickhoff is the kind of guy you can count on," Mackanin said. "He throws strikes. He knows what he's doing."

Eickhoff is intent on building on last year's success in 2017. The guy has a Halladay-like work ethic. He arrived in Clearwater on Feb. 1 and got right to work. After his two innings of work on Monday, he put in a couple of hours in the weight room and on a back field running.

"I just have to continue working," he said. "I have a very high standard for myself as a lot of us in here do. We want to be the best players that we can be."

Eickhoff is working on improving his changeup this spring and his overall goal is to make every start -- as he did last season.

"That's the priority -- make every start," he said. "That's always a priority for me.

"I'd also like to incorporate the changeup a little more and use my slider and curveball and not get heavily reliant on one or the other, which happened several times last year and I think got me into trouble at times. So incorporating both for the duration of the season and just being more crisp with execution and location is my goal.

"I'm always looking to get better. I think the sky is the limit. I'm going to continue working, whether it's being Greg Maddux-esque with command or having a good breaking ball, or throwing a changeup like Maddux and guys like that did. There's always something I'm working on and trying to develop and sharpen up."

Eickhoff lines up to start the second game of the regular season behind projected opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson.

The game
The Phillies lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, 7-2. The Phils are 2-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco had two hits, including his third homer of the spring. It was a long drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. He also had a single to right field.

"The thing I like early in the spring from him is he's going deeper into counts," Mackanin said. "I think he's working toward a good year this year."

Stassi impresses
Non-roster player Brock Stassi, a candidate to win a job as a reserve first baseman and outfielder (see story), did not play in the game. He, however, has a single, double and homer in the first three games.

Mackanin gushed about Stassi’s defense when asked about it Monday.

"He's one of the best first basemen I've seen in a real long time," Mackanin said. "He has no need to improve on his defense and I like the way he swings the bat. He's a real solid baseball player so he's a guy I really want to get a good look at."

Pitching matters
Starting pitchers Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin are both projected to pitch at Triple A. Both have been slowed early in camp because of health reasons, but are progressing well. Thompson has a sore right wrist and Eflin is recovering from a pair of surgeries to address tendinitis in both knees.

Both pitchers will continue to throw in the bullpen this week and ramp up to live batting practice next week. There is plenty of time for both pitchers to get their arms ready to open the season. However, the Phillies may decide to take a cautious approach with Eflin and let him build some more strength in his knees before they turn him loose. He could stay in Florida for a couple of extra weeks before joining the Triple A club.

Up next
The Phillies host the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. Clay Buchholz will make his first start of the spring. Here is the Phillies' posted starting lineup for the game:

1. Freddy Galvis, SS
2. Howie Kendrick, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, DH
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Chris Coghlan, RF
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Scott Kingery, 2B

Nick Pivetta is not thrilled about bullpen assignment but he’ll suck it up for the team

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AP Images

Nick Pivetta is not thrilled about bullpen assignment but he’ll suck it up for the team

PITTSBURGH — Nick Pivetta is going to the bullpen and though he accepts the move, he doesn’t seem particularly thrilled about it. That much was clear by the series of curt responses he offered to reporters’ questions before Friday night’s game against the Pirates.

“They had their explanation and I’m in the bullpen,” he said. “That’s all I have to say.

“It’s their decision. I’m here to support the 25 guys in this room and do the best I can to win baseball games for this team, for the players in this room.”

Pivetta was moved to the bullpen to accommodate Drew Smyly. The Phillies have an agreement to sign the free-agent left-hander, pending the outcome of a review of medicals that was still ongoing late Friday afternoon.

The deal is expected to get finalized. In fact, manager Gabe Kapler spoke as if it was a slam dunk and Smyly was said to already be in Pittsburgh waiting to officially sign.

Kapler said Smyly would start Sunday against the Pirates. That start was scheduled to go to Vince Velasquez. It had been widely assumed that Velasquez would go back to the bullpen, where he showed some flashes of success in late May and June. But Kapler said Velasquez would stay in the rotation for now and start Wednesday in Detroit. Pivetta was to be available in relief Friday night.

“Yes,” Pivetta said when asked if he was surprised by the move.

Only one of his 72 major-league appearances has been in relief. That came last year against Washington in a 13-inning game. He blew away the Nationals hitters for one inning with 19 pitches, 11 of which were strikes. He hit 98 mph on the gun. The performance still resonates with some in the organization.

Will moving to the bullpen be a difficult adjustment for Pivetta?

“I’m a pitcher,” he said. “Learn how to adapt quickly.

“I’ve always wanted to be a starter. That’s who I am, but like I said there are 25 men in this room and I’m playing for them, not for myself. I’m playing for these guys in this room because we want to hold the World Series trophy at the end of the year and I’m focused on helping these men compete and win baseball games.”

It has been a disappointing season for Pivetta. He came out of spring training as everyone’s pick to click this season and was awarded with the second start of the season. He made four starts, was sent to Triple A, returned with some success, but has recently struggled again. He has a 5.74 ERA in 13 starts. He is walking 3.3 batters per nine innings, up from 2.8 last year, and striking out just 7.6 per nine, down from 10.3 last year.

Smyly, who missed the last two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, had a 8.42 ERA in 51 1/3 innings with Texas earlier this season. The Rangers released him and he spent time with Milwaukee’s Triple A team before asking for his release on Thursday. The pitching-needy Phillies quickly pursued him not as a sure-thing contributor but more as a take-a-chance-and-see-what-happens guy. The Phils have little financial risk as Smyly is making the pro-rated major-league minimum of $550,000.

Kapler explained the Phils’ decision to send Pivetta to the bullpen instead of Velasquez.

“The first (reason) is I think Vince has made some strides in the rotation recently,” Kapler said. “The second is we have a pretty good sample of both Nick and Vince in the starting rotation and we had a little look at what Vince looks like out of the bullpen. What we don’t have is a real look at how Nick looks in the bullpen. We are hurting for right-handed leverage arms right now in the ‘pen and I’m not saying we’re prioritizing what’s happening in the bullpen, but all things considered, we’re looking at it from every angle, and it looked like the right decision for the Phillies and both pitchers individually.

“I think a good precedent is probably what happened with Vince. Vince was in the bullpen for a little bit and it turned out that we needed him in the rotation. He popped back in the rotation. We’ll see how Nick looks out of the bullpen and we’ll see how Vince continues to develop in the rotation. We’ll see how Smyly looks and we’ll make decisions when they’re appropriate.”

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MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

Track all the latest MLB trade deadline news and rumors here through July 31.

Phils show interest in Stroman (July 19)

Unsurprisingly, many front offices will have an eye tonight on Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman when he faces the lowly Tigers tonight, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi points out, adding the Phillies are one of the interested parties.

The Phillies hold some level of interest in every available starting pitcher, ranging from the top and most expensive tier to the marginal upgrades.

Stroman is one of the most attractive pitchers on the market. He’s 28, he was an All-Star, and he’s bounced back strong this season. In 19 starts, he has a 3.25 ERA and is allowing a career-low rate of hits. His strikeout rate is similar to Jake Arrieta’s or Zach Eflin’s. Stroman relies on ground balls and has been effective this season getting out of jams. He’s fun to watch when he’s doing it, the most demonstrative starting pitcher in the majors.

Will Cards move Martinez? (July 16)

The Cardinals are 47-45, two games out of first place and tied with the Phillies for the second wild-card spot. Yet they could look to trade Carlos Martinez this month, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Martinez is acting as St. Louis' closer with Jordan Hicks out for the season. Martinez has pitched well in relief, posting a 2.18 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning in 18 appearances.

But he's also making $11.5 million, more than a team in the Cardinals' position would ideally like to pay a pitcher to get three or four outs. 

Martinez was a very effective starting pitcher from 2015-18, going 50-33 with a 3.22 ERA and making a pair of All-Star teams. A year's worth of shoulder pain forced the Cardinals to move him from the rotation to the bullpen.

Martinez is an interesting trade candidate because there figure to be at least a few teams who check in on him as a starting pitcher.

Race for Ray (July 15)

The Phillies are again showing interest in Robbie Ray, according to Jon Morosi. We have mentioned Ray frequently here as a Phillies trade target dating back to last summer.

Ray would help any contender. He’s a 27-year-old lefty with an extremely high strikeout rate. He experiences bouts of wildness and does lead the National League with 56 walks, but he has also settled in to a mid-3.00s ERA the last three seasons.

The left-handedness and legit swing-and-miss stuff make Ray the type of pitcher the Phillies do not have.

Ray turns 28 on Oct. 1. Based on his age and remaining contract — 2020 is his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent — he would be a great fit for the Phillies, even if they do continue to fall out of the playoff race. Ray would help them now and next season and would be a prime extension candidate if he pitches well.

The competition for his services via trade will be intense. The Astros (more on them below) are also in on Ray, and plenty of other clubs have expressed interest in the past. The Phillies would have to trade a player or two they don’t want to trade to acquire him.

Speedsters available (July 15)

The Royals have made lightning-fast outfielders Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore available. Neither is much of a fit for the Phillies, who already have Roman Quinn in that role.

Hamilton and Gore could both help a contender in need of a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner. They are both impactful defenders and baserunners who can't hit.

As for Whit Merrifield, it seems unlikely Kansas City would move him despite being 30 games under .500. Merrifield is such a good, multi-dimensional player that the Royals deserve a huge score for him. At 30 years old, he is enjoying by far his best season, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Merrifield's .861 OPS is 55 points higher than his previous career-high.

Merrifield's dynamic offense and positional versatility make him a fit anywhere. The Cubs would make a ton of sense. 

Astros after a starter? (July 15)

The Astros have gotten huge production from their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. But the back of the rotation remains a question mark. Collin McHugh is pitching in a mop-up role, Brad Peacock is dealing with a sore shoulder, Framber Valdez has been lit up three starts in a row, and Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of July.

The Astros are still maybe the deepest team in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win would represent disappointment in 2019. Madison Bumgarner would make a whole lot of sense for Houston, which is still rich in prospects after all of their graduations to the majors.

Trade season begins

A pair of solid but unspectacular starting pitchers were moved this past weekend to kick off trade deadline activity.

Remember, these next two weeks figure to be even more frenzied than usual in July because there is now a hard trade deadline of July 31. No more August trades, except those involving a swap of minor-leaguers.

The Orioles sent Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox for a pair of 17-year-old position player prospects who had been playing for Boston's Dominican Summer League team. 

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cashner went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. Baltimore went 11-6 in his starts and 17-59 in all other games.

The Red Sox needed another starting pitcher with the Nate Eovaldi experiment going sideways. Eovaldi has missed much of the season and will shift to the bullpen upon his return later this month. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

The Royals, meanwhile, traded Homer Bailey to the A's for a fringy Double A infielder. Bailey has been just OK this season, with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. 

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