Jerad Eickhoff gave the Phillies’ front office something to think about as it heads into an important offseason of roster construction.
The hard-working right-hander rose from a season filled with injury and heartache and made a very nice showing in his first — and what will be his only — big-league start of 2018 on Friday night.
The Phillies lost their ninth straight game, 10-2, to the Atlanta Braves, but that didn’t dim the good vibes surrounding Eickhoff’s performance. He pitched 3 1/3 innings of two-run ball and struck out eight of the 15 batters he faced, including seven in a row (see first take).
Before the game, manager Gabe Kapler said he would give Eickhoff some rope and push him, but it turned out that 56 pitches were enough.
As Eickhoff left the mound and made it to the dugout, he became emotional. It has been a tough year for him. First, it was a strained back muscle in spring training, then the recurrence of a nerve issue in his fingers and wrist that robbed him of time last year. The two issues kept him on the disabled list for most of the season. The pitcher also lost an aunt that he was very close to early in the season.
“The year, the trials, everything just culminated walking off,” Eickhoff said. “I couldn’t really contain it in the dugout.
“They didn’t have to give me a start, (GM Matt) Klentak and the staff. This was not expected. I did not take this for granted. This was a gift and an opportunity. I’m so fortunate and lucky to have it.”
Eickhoff, 28, was the Phillies' best pitcher two seasons ago. He recorded a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts. He struggled with the nerve issue in his wrist and hand this season and last and at times did not know where to turn. Recent treatments have him feeling better and able to pitch.
Eickhoff’s fastball topped out at 91.2 mph Friday night and he had his signature, often dazzling, overhand curveball. He got nine swing and misses on that pitch.
Eickhoff is one of the most respected players in the Phillies’ clubhouse for his hard work and earnest character.
“That guy has battled for a long, long, long, long time,” Rhys Hoskins said. “He is the epitome of a professional work ethic. He battled through a lot of unknown. It was really, really cool to see him go out and not skip a beat. I would like to see how he would have done if there wasn’t a pitch count on him. And I’m glad that I don’t have to hit against the breaking ball that he has. Really cool. Really happy for Jerad.”
Eickhoff said he was surprised how locked-in he felt as he was racking up strikeouts.
“It makes no sense given the amount of time missed,” he said. “It’s hard to explain, kind of like an out of body experience. I wasn’t alone. I think that’s the kind of thing that hit home for me.”
The Phillies will likely add some starting pitching in the offseason. These last two difficult months have proven they need it. Eickhoff showed Friday night that he would be ready to come to Clearwater in February, compete for a job and maybe provide some of the help the Phillies need.
“There was already a fire in me, but this was huge,” he said.