When you work in the media often times, when you have a group of friends that is as invested in a team as you are, that group becomes the guinea pig for your work. It isn’t malicious or done to spite your friends in order to prove that you know more than they do. We in the media aren’t infallible. But perhaps what some of these interactions do is provide you with guidelines for your next bit of work. This is one such case.
Two nights ago, while the Phillies were en route to dropping a third game of five to the lowly New York Mets in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, a conversation was struck up by a four person group chat that I’m a part of. The three others are good friends from high school, or even earlier, whom I respect their sports opinions. Most of the time. I jest, of course, because it’s often my job to argue my side of the equation for a living, therefore, when the situation presents itself, and I find myself on the opposite side of the spectrum compared to those three, it fuels writing interest.
Anyway, as the game was progressing, the name Jerad Eickhoff was brought up. He was mentioned in hopes of a fresh arm in the rotation was Nick Pivetta continued to struggle on the mound. Eickhoff, who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues this season due to multiple setbacks in his recovery, was mentioned as a possible replacement for Pivetta in the rotation moving forward. Eickhoff is scheduled to make two rehab appearances in Triple-A Lehigh Valley before, assuming everything goes to plan, returning to the Phillies’ 25-man roster.
But here’s the thing: there’s no room for Eickhoff.
First, let’s tackle the handful of options for Eickhoff as a starting pitcher. Perhaps too bluntly, I don’t want to see Eickhoff in the starting rotation this season.
He’s mentioned multiple times this year that he still has tingling in his hand when he’s on the mound. That scares me. That means the pressure, or lack there of, or (insert medical terminology that I am not well versed on) is persisting, at least to some degree. That, in terms, means that Eickhoff is likely still not 100 percent ready to pitch consistently. The Phillies are in the thick of a pennant race. Jerad Eickhoff hasn’t pitched all season long. Do you really want to consider a guy who is working out the kinks still for the starting rotation? If the Phillies falter down the stretch, and those shortcomings rest squarely on the back of Nick Pivetta, I can sleep at night knowing the team wasn’t ready for the next step. But if you throw Eickhoff to the wolves, and he gets torn to shreds, how can you justify that move?
Pivetta has not been good recently. I am not going to argue a case in which I statistically cannot win. I try to play far too objectively to do something like that. But to consider Eickhoff as Pivetta’s replacement this far into the stretch run with effectively zero work to his credit would be a disservice to the team and it would be a disservice to the fan base.
This argument from me led to a secondary comment on moving Pivetta to the bullpen should the Phillies decide Eickhoff is ready to join the rotation. I hearken back to the piece I wrote several weeks backs outlining why, at this current juncture, the Phillies would be ill-advised to move Pivetta to the bullpen. His first inning numbers are atrocious. Pivetta, generally speaking, settles in as the game progresses. The counterargument to that would be, that Pivetta wouldn’t have to save himself to stretch through six or seven innings. He could pump his fastball a few ticks higher on the radar gun knowing he would only be throwing 10-20 pitches. Here’s the downside: he’s never worked out of a Major League bullpen before. The transition from rotation to bullpen for someone who has had to come out of the bullpen just once, in an emergency spot, in his young career is a challenge mid-season. The adjustment might not set in right away.
I would eventually like to see Eickhoff regain his spot in the rotation. I also would like to see Pivetta become a bullpen arm. I think the two would be most beneficial in those respected roles. The caveat to that is, I’d like to see those transitions take place from October to March, when the team isn’t fighting for its playoff life. This offseason would allow Eickhoff five additional months to strengthen his arm and back. It also would teach Pivetta the bullpen mentality. The two belong in these specific roles, but not until 2019.
Moving to the alternative to sliding Pivetta out of the rotation by putting him in the bullpen, is the demotion of another bullpen arm. At this current juncture, the Phillies are carrying 13 pitchers and 12 position players. It’s been that way for a majority of the season. In the National League, that is often the rule of thumb since pitchers have to hit. Assuming Pivetta remains in the big leagues, Nola, Arrieta, Pivetta, Velasquez and Eickhoff all would maintain their spot on the roster. So would Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Edubray Ramos, Tommy Hunter, and Adam Morgan.
That’s ten arms. There are now four pitchers for three spots. Notice I didn’t include Zach Eflin in this list. That would not have been the case two weeks ago, but after the Phillies used a loophole to send Eflin day for ten days, nothing is off the table. Eflin wouldn’t be an ideal selection, as he’s pitched well this season. But he also is an option because of his option. He has the ability to be sent down with no penalty because of his remaining option. While you’d like Eflin to pitch down this stretch run, if the team is intent on sticking Eickhoff in the rotation, he could be the odd man out. And consider this, even though we believe Eflin will remain, he isn’t currently on the 25-man roster. Which means two pitchers will have be sent back down.
Let’s assume, however, that Eflin stay, as does Pivetta, and Pivetta is sent to the bullpen. Now you have five starters and Dominguez, Neshek, Ramos, Hunter, Morgan and Pivetta in the bullpen. The team has room for two more relievers. At this point in the season, Victor Arano should be a stone cold lock to remain on the team. In 45 games, he’s posted a 2.02 ERA.
With Arano remaining, you have one spot for three arms. That spot comes down to Hector Neris, Yacksel Rios and Luis Garcia. Up until recently, the answer seemed obvious. You choose Garcia. But over his last 11 innings pitched, Garcia has surrendered seven runs and his ERA has swelled to 4.11 for the season. This same late season slump plagued Garcia last year, as well, after he jumped out to that torrid start. Rios hasn’t been good either, though, as he’s surrendered 12 earned runs over his last 15.1 innings pitched. So is it really going to be Hector Neris? It just might be. Since returning to the big league club last week, Neris has yet to surrender a run over three appearances. An admittedly small sample size, but aren’t we a recency fan base? Shouldn’t his production over the last three outings outweigh Garcia and Rios’s poor performances? For now, I think it might. For the time being, you need outs, and Neris is the best option right now. He may not be moving forward, but today, August 20, he is.
With Neris grabbing the last spot, the Phillies would have to option both Yacksel Rios and Luis Garcia to Triple-A, unless they came up with an injury to put Garcia on the disabled list. It’s a lot of moving parts, including two crucial ones in adding Eickhoff to the rotation and sending Pivetta to the bullpen. It isn’t worth the risk this late in the season. Stick with Pivetta or go down with the ship trying. Eickhoff will rejoin the rotation in 2019.
Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports