Phillies

Phillies send Jerad Eickhoff to bullpen, ponder next move

Phillies send Jerad Eickhoff to bullpen, ponder next move

One day after giving up five home runs in a 13-8 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, Jerad Eickhoff learned he would not make his next scheduled start Sunday in Atlanta.

“I wasn’t getting the job done,” the always-accountable right-hander said. “That’s what I pride myself on. I had three or four starts that weren’t up to my standards or theirs either.”

Eickhoff was not sent to the minors because, as manager Gabe Kapler said, “We see him as one of our 13 best pitchers.”

Eickhoff will work out of the bullpen.

“We told Jerad that when he’s back on track he’ll be a consideration in the rotation again,” Kapler said.

Kapler was uncertain who would make Sunday’s start. He mentioned Vince Velasquez as a possibility then seemed to back off of that because Velasquez has suddenly become important in the bullpen and “maybe the best move is letting him get settled in there.”

Left-handers Ranger Suarez and Cole Irvin are both possibilities. Prospect Adonis Medina is not. (The Phils would like to give him more development time at Double A.) Suarez was called up from the minors on Friday, replacing injured Seranthony Dominguez. Irvin is currently in Triple A.

It’s also possible the Phils could use a reliever such as Jose Alvarez as an opener. They did that recently in Los Angeles.

Kapler said the Phils could have a decision by Wednesday.

The decision to send Eickhoff to the bullpen went beyond his poor outing Monday night. He has given up 16 homers and 27 runs over his last six starts.

“My ball has been a little flat, my arm is dragging a little,” he said. “I need to make some adjustments. I’m always willing to do the work.”

A few health checks

Reliever Edubray Ramos could be ready to come off the injured list Wednesday.

Kapler said reliever Pat Neshek is not far away from being activated. Neshek might not require a minor-league rehab outing.

“Pat is very close,” Kapler said.

Center fielder Roman Quinn was slated to play nine innings for Single A Clearwater on Tuesday night. It sounds like there’s a chance he could be ready to go by the weekend.

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.

Simplify.

"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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