Larry Bowa called this one.
The Phillies legend, now a front-office adviser with the club, was talking ball during the 93-minute rain delay that preceded Friday night’s first pitch.
Bowa speculated that Jerad Eickhoff would pitch a good game against the Miami Marlins. His reasoning: Eickhoff features an excellent breaking ball and the Marlins struggle against those pitches. Indeed, a check of the stats showed that the Marlins were hitting just .188 against breaking balls.
The math checked out. Eickhoff relied heavily on his curveball and slider in delivering seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball, and J.T. Realmuto, Maikel Franco and Bryce Harper all homered as the Phillies beat the Marlins, 4-0, at Citizens Bank Park (see observations).
Eickhoff’s story has often been told. He came to the Phillies from Texas as part of the Cole Hamels trade in July 2015. He was the team’s best starting pitcher in 2016. Big things were expected in 2017, but he struggled with injuries. He made just one start in the majors last season due to a condition similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. He had surgery for the issue in October, opened this season in the minors and has come on quickly with two strong starts since being brought back to the majors 10 days ago.
Friday night’s win was his first since Aug. 25, 2017.
“It’s kind of surreal to think it’s been that long,” Eickhoff said. “It just goes to show that every time you go out there to pitch is a great opportunity to get a win. It’s really special. Any time you get one, whether it's one or 20, each one is pretty awesome.”
Eickhoff did not allow a hit until the fifth inning. He walked one and struck out six. Five of his strikeouts came on curveballs. In all, he got nine swings and misses on breaking balls, five on his slider, four on his curveball.
Though he has the body of a power pitcher — 6-4, 245 pounds with a strong “engine room,” as Johnny Podres used to call a pitcher’s thighs and backside — Eickhoff is not a power guy. His best fastball Friday night was 91 mph. What the right-hander lacks in velocity, he makes up for in old-fashioned “pitch-ability” and that starts with his ability to command two plus breaking balls.
“I think he's kind of a throwback,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He's not a 2019 pitcher — a stuff guy with big velocity and a fastball with a big spin rate. He's super-crafty. It's changing speeds, it's location over velocity, it's throwing a ball when he wants to throw a ball and it's being in the zone when he wants to be in the zone.
"The change in speed is what really stands out. The 73, 74, 75 mph on the curveball is a lot different than 91. A lot of times when a pitcher has a pitch like that, they don't have as much command as Jerad has on his curveball. So I think the change in speeds and the big, 12-6 break are what sets him apart. There aren't a lot of guys like Jerad Eickhoff in most rotations if you look around the game right now.”
Eickhoff tinkered with the grip on his slider over the winter and the pitch has gotten sharper.
“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s another weapon. I feel like I’m throwing all three pitches in a way that you can’t really sit on one.”
Though Eickhoff started the season in the minors, no one thought he’d be there all season. The season-opening assignment to Triple A was understandable. The Phillies had five guys that had earned looks in the season-opening rotation and it wasn’t going to hurt Eickhoff to get some innings in the minors after missing most of last season.
Now that he’s here, with two good starts under his belt, he’s looking to make up for the time he lost the last two seasons.
“It just makes everything a little sweeter now,” Eickhoff said. “I think that's what I've kind of learned from this whole experience. I'm just pitching for these guys, not necessarily for myself. It's for these guys, to keep us in the game. We're trying to win a World Series and that's what I'm here to try to help do.”
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