Phillies

Jerad Eickhoff hopes to find what Roy Halladay did 8 years ago

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Jerad Eickhoff hopes to find what Roy Halladay did 8 years ago

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CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was just eight years ago that Roy Halladay arrived in Phillies camp without a consistent changeup. Halladay had more than survived without the pitch. He won a Cy Young Award in Toronto and finished in the top five of the voting four other times without really having a go-to changeup.

During his first spring with the Phillies in 2010, pitching coach Rich Dubee suggested Halladay try a new grip on his changeup. Halladay picked up the pitch quickly and the deeper repertoire helped him win 40 games over the next two seasons and take home another Cy Young Award.

Now, on the same mounds that Halladay experimented and eventually mastered the changeup, Jerad Eickhoff does the same thing. He arrived at camp with a new grip. The pitch is a work in progress, but he likes the way it’s going.

“I’ve been getting pretty good feedback on it and that’s exciting,” Eickhoff said after facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 5-4 loss Friday afternoon.

Eickhoff’s overall results were not stellar. He gave up five hits, including a homer, and four runs in 3 1/3 innings, walked none and struck out three. While not totally pleased with the numbers, Eickhoff was able to keep the big picture in mind: this is spring training, a time to work on things.

“The first hit of the game was a changeup,” he said. “But I’m happy with the speed and the counts I’m throwing it in.”

Eickhoff threw mostly fastballs and curveballs with an occasional slider last season. He threw his changeup less than one percent of the time. Eickhoff’s fastball sits in the low 90s. An effective changeup will make the fastball look quicker to a hitter. It all starts with the grip and Eickhoff believes he found one over the winter. It’s pretty simple: All four fingers on top of the ball. Stay behind the ball, let it come off the fingertips and don’t manipulate it too much.

“It’s always been a task, the past four or five years,” the thoughtful 27-year-old right-hander said. “You try to get to a grip because you get to the season and you don’t want to go with three or four grips where you’re not giving each one a chance. So I’m trying to stick with this one as long as I can. It seems to be something I can control in the zone and locate.

“I have a usable slider. To be able to throw the fourth pitch in there is huge. It can put you at another level.”

Eickhoff still has an excellent curveball, though he wasn’t pleased with the location of a couple of them early in his outing. But he ended with a couple of good ones.

“Right before I went out to get him, he landed two good curveballs in the zone,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I know he was happy about that. 

"Overall, it was a strong performance. He relied a lot on his curveball last year. It’s nice he can experiment with his other secondary pitches.”

Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

Major Leaguers go crazy on social media about Jake Arrieta

The absolute filth. What Jake Arrieta did Monday had his fellow Major Leaguers going crazy on social media.

In his final start of the spring, Arrieta sure looked ready for his season debut on Sunday. He went six strong, allowing two earned with eight strikeouts. However, it was how he racked up the K’s that had his colleagues fawning on social media.

First, this disgusting free and easy 92 out of Arrieta’s right hand that falls away from the right-handed hitter.

Fellow MLBers Marcus Stroman and Lance McCullers could not get enough.

Next, this 88 mph change, which falls off the table, had other pros wondering how they could harness the same sorcery.

Arrieta, a World Series champ and Cy Young winner, was solid but not spectacular in his first season with the Phillies, but he’s still got the same fire and ability that saw him win 22 games and post a 1.77 ERA in 2015. In fact, our Corey Seidman wrote about why Phillies fans can expect more from Arietta this season (see story).

A veteran presence in the clubhouse and a force on the mound, he’ll certainly be one to watch this season as the Phillies make a push for the playoffs.

We know it’s more than just Phillies fans watching, too.

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Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

On his last day in Florida, Gabe Kapler put the top down and took his new and improved lineup for a spin.

The Phillies manager used what figures to be his opening day lineup — minus starting pitcher Aaron Nola — for the team’s final spring-training game Monday.

The unit — with a little help from minor-leaguer Malvin Matos — pulled out a curtain-closing, 3-2, win over the Tampa Bay Rays at sun-splashed Spectrum Field. Matos, up for the day from minor-league camp, won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of ninth and everybody left happy.

The new season starts Thursday when the Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of 162. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.

The Phillies added two former NL MVPs, a former NL hits leader and the best catcher in baseball this winter and expectations are high for this club that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, its last winning season.

Kapler had his game face on after Monday's spring finale.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think this team has a ton of potential, but we have to stay focused every single day.

“We have to come to the ballpark every day with a game plan of doing the little things right, running the bases hard and executing fundamentals. If we do that, we can do good things.”

The Phils will send Nick Pivetta to the mound in the second game of the series on Saturday. He will face rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. Jake Arrieta will start Sunday night’s nationally televised game against another Atlanta rookie right-hander, Kyle Wright.

The Phillies will play their fourth game of the season Apr. 2 at Washington and send Zach Eflin to the mound. That should be a wild scene with Bryce Harper, the hood ornament on Kapler’s new and improved lineup, returning to the city in which he played for seven seasons.

Harper, a former NL MVP, anchored Kapler’s lineup in the No. 3 spot Monday. He will be right back there Thursday and could stay there all season as Kapler, with improved personnel, has said he’ll try to keep guys in consistent spots in the order this year.

Kapler’s sneak-peek lineup looked like this Monday:

Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper LF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
J.T. Realmuto C
Odubel Herrera CF
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B

Last season, Hernandez was the Phillies’ primary leadoff man and Franco often batted in the middle of the order. They significantly strengthen the bottom third of the order. Franco homered on Monday and Hernandez doubled.

Four of the top five spots in the batting order were occupied by newcomers, McCutchen, another former MVP, at the top followed by former NL hits champ Segura and Harper. Realmuto caught and hit fifth.

“It’s exciting,” Arrieta said of the lineup. “More than anything I think it puts a little fear into the opposition. I don’t know if you call it fear, it’s just maybe a little more preparation goes into facing a lineup like we have this year.

“With the guys we’ve got, there’s really not a break in our lineup. It’s going to be fun.”

Arrieta started Monday and struck out eight over six innings in his final spring tune-up. Pivetta pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game and struck out nine.

Over the weekend, Nola said: “We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete. Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.”

Arrieta concurred.

“Of course, I think we're a playoff team,” he said Monday. “You look at the team we had last year, we were borderline. We had our chances. Some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from a tough series carried on to the next vs. the cliché of turning the page quick. This group is much better suited to deal with adversity.

“The Braves doing what they did to us last year in winning the division, not that there has to be a chip on our shoulder, but a lot of guys in here remember how it shook down for us, the way the season finished, and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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