Update: Nick Pivetta has been optioned to Triple A and replaced in the Phillies’ rotation by Jerad Eickhoff
Internal competition for playing time is a wonderful thing. It can sharpen everybody’s performance and ultimately make a team better.
This was the great subplot of the Phillies’ giddy 14-3 win over the New York Mets on Tuesday night.
Watch out for Scott Kingery and Jerad Eickhoff.
The Phillies’ 10th victory in 16 games was an entertaining affair, mostly because the club came out of the gate with a 10-run explosion in the first inning. The Phils sent 14 men to the plate and had six extra-base hits, including two home runs, in the uprising. After the final out of the inning, the sellout crowd at Citizens Bank Park showed its appreciation with a standing ovation.
Maikel Franco was one of the stars of the big first inning. He clubbed his team-high sixth homer, a three-run shot to center. J.T. Realmuto had a pair of RBI doubles in the inning and finished his night with five RBIs.
Kingery also drove in five runs. Three of them came on a first-inning homer. He also had a single and a two-run double.
Nick Pivetta was the beneficiary of the early run support and he got the win. But the most impressive pitching performance of the night came from Eickhoff, who came up from the minors earlier in the day and struck out six over four shutout innings.
Kingery began the season as a reserve on a team that has a set lineup. Eickhoff began the season without a spot in the big club's rotation. They are both in position to put pressure on the people ahead of them — especially if they continue to produce like they did Tuesday night.
Kingery struggled at the plate as a rookie last year, but he’s “flattened” his swing and taken a more aggressive approach early in the count and it’s paying off. He looks like a more confident player. He's certainly more potent at the plate.
Over his last seven games, Kingery is 11 for 17 (.647) with four doubles, a homer and five RBIs. He’s put himself in line for more time at second base, third base, shortstop or even center field. In the short term, that time could come at shortstop because Jean Segura left Tuesday night’s game with a hamstring tweak.
“Absolutely,” manager Gabe Kapler said when asked if Kingery deserved to play more. “And it’s because of his all-around game. It’s getting more and more difficult to not have him in the lineup.”
A better read on Eickhoff’s performance might have come in a closer game. Nonethless, Kapler was impressed.
“Jerad pitched great tonight,” he said. “He continues to open eyes. He’s off barrels. He induces weak contact. He gets swings and misses. It’s not 97, but it’s a slider that makes hitters uncomfortable and it’s a curveball that makes left and right uncomfortable. We saw him go through some pretty good hitters tonight.”
It’s not clear what is next for Eickhoff. He probably would not be best served waiting around for opportunities as a long reliever. It might be best to keep him stretched out as a starter at Triple A. Regardless of the path the Phillies choose, Eickhoff, who was the club's best starter in 2016, is healthy and eager to take a regular turn in the rotation. Pivetta, who has struggled out of the gate, took a small step in the right direction Tuesday night, but if he doesn’t find some consistency soon, Eickhoff could get the opportunity he desires. An effective Eickhoff will also force Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez to be on top of their games.
Internal competition can be great fuel for achievement and the Phillies are happy to have some. It’s almost as good as scoring 10 runs in the first inning.
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