Jerad Eickhoff fired a pitch in the third inning, called for the training staff, and quickly exited the game in yesterday afternoon’s matchup against the Braves. As we speak, Eickhoff is being examined by team doctors. According to MLB.com Phillies’ writer Todd Zolecki, Eickhoff told Manager Pete Mackanin that he felt a tingling sensation in his arm just after throwing his final pitch.
Throughout his start that lasted just two plus innings today, effectively putting a massive strain on the bullpen as the two teams play a double header, Eickhoff hit 90 miles per hour on just two pitches. Moreso, according to CSN’s Corey Seidman, Eickhoff has averaged 90 or better on his fastball in just three of his last nine starts. Prior to that nine game stretch, Eickhoff averaged 90 miles per hour in all 56 starts he made.
These two factors indicate that Eickhoff will be heading to the disabled list in the coming hours regardless of the severity of the “tingling sensation”. This could be a serious injury, or just a common case of general arm fatigue, but it stands to reason that the organization will have him miss a few starts with a vaguely described “arm soreness” DL report.
Eickhoff has struggled all season to find consistency, and it isn’t just that his fastball velocity is down. Pitchers can work with changing velocities. Sometimes young pitchers won’t throw as hard in a second or third full season because of the unanticipated stress on their arms that comes with throwing every fifth day. Young arms aren’t used to making this many starts in college or the minor. Fatigue is common place. But what’s worrisome about Eickhoff this season has been his lack of control. Last year, in nearly 200 innings pitched, Eickhoff walked 42 batters, or 1.9 hitters per nine innings pitched. This season, through just 126 innings, he’s already surpassed that total, issuing 52 free passes. That’s a staggering 3.7 walks per nine.
A near two walks per nine innings pitched jump has forced Eickhoff to adjust over the heart of the plate, where hitters are taking advantage of that dip in velocity. When Eickhoff is forced to leave pitches up, hitters are making better contact. Last season, he allowed a .251 batting average against. This year, that number has jumped to .275.
What amazes me about Eickhoff is that, despite the uptick in walks and batting average against, he’s actually better in two statistical categories this year as opposed to 2016. His homeruns per nine total is down and his strikeouts per nine total is up. This is baffling to think about with how often Eickhoff has left pitches over the middle of the plate this season. This can only be attributed to the success he’s had with the changeup this season. Eickhoff has thrown 728 charted changeups this year. On those pitches, opposing hitters are batting just .158. He’s also gotten quite a few swings and misses, picking up 116 of those, or 16 percent of his changeups. This goes to show you that control is often times more important than velocity. You can still be effective in utilizing your off speed pitches just as long as you have control of your fastball, which, to this point in 2017, Eickhoff has not.
Like I said, I’d expect to see Eickhoff hit the shelf for a couple of starts, and wouldn’t even be surprised to see him shut down for the remainder of the season. With not much left to play for, as the Phillies have already secured their fifth consecutive losing season, the organization may do well to bring up some of the younger arms in AAA Lehigh Valley and showcase them for the start of 2018. I’d expect to see a combination of Drew Anderson, Jake Thompson and Zach Eflin make starts in the final month of the season in order to give Eickhoff a rest.
If this season has proved anything from Eickhoff, it’s that he’s far from a lock to be a part of the long term plan. While the young fireballers aren’t quite ready to go in 2018, which should allow one final chance for Eickhoff to spring back, they will be up and ready in the next few years. Eickhoff will have to fight off Sanchez, Dominguez, Romero, Kilomme and others to keep his job with the Phillies.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports