PHILADELPHIA — Phillies new manager Gabe Kapler sat down in front of his laptop in his Citizens Bank Park office last month and reviewed the 2017 season of pitcher Jerad Eickhoff.
Eickhoff’s disappointing year was not as bad as everyone thinks.
Kapler quickly noted that Eickhoff’s Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) statistic was 4.19 in 2016 and 4.30 in 2017 — a minimal difference, according to Kapler. The FIP takes into account only what pitchers can control — strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches and home runs allowed.
“We’re trying to balance this very objective set of information,” Kapler said. “Then there’s what we see observationally.”
What Phillies fans saw in 2017 was subpar Eickhoff. Phillies pitchers and catchers hold their first spring training workout in Clearwater, Florida, on Wednesday, and the Phillies need Eickhoff to bounce back in 2018.
Eickhoff was 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA last season. His fastball velocity dipped. The Phillies shut him down for the season with nerve irritation in his throwing hand after he allowed six hits and six runs in just two innings against the Atlanta Braves on Aug. 30.
All this came after an impressive 2016 when Eickhoff threw 197.1 innings and was 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA.
Eickhoff said problems with his pitching mechanics led to last season’s nerve irritation.
“Over the course of the season it kept building up and building up,” Eickhoff said last month during the Phillies winter caravan to promote the upcoming season. “I was opening up too soon and putting a lot of pressure on the front of my (pectoral muscle), shoulder and elbow. Something had to give and the nerves were the factor that gave out.”
The cure was rest and not surgery – much to Eickhoff’s relief. He didn’t pick up a baseball until the first week of November.
“As crazy as it sounds,” he said, “they said the nerves were really funky. As soon as you flare those back up again, the whole two-month process of doing nothing starts over again. I had to take enough time to make sure the nerves were calmed down before I started throwing (again). That was key. I think we did that, and I haven’t felt anything since.”
Eickhoff has spent the off-season trying to correct his mechanics. He’s watched video and worked with new Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz.
“Every time I threw a bullpen, I would shoot (Kranitz) video of it and ask him how it is,” Eickhoff said. “He said it’s looking great. I’m just trying to repeat (his delivery) and continue to do the right things.”
The Phillies improved their lineup with the signing of free agent first baseman Carlos Santana. They bolstered their bullpen with the addition of Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter.
But for now, the Phillies are beginning the season with a young and mostly unproved pitching staff.
Eickhoff will turn 28 July 2. He is no longer the prospect he was when the Phillies acquired him from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade in the summer of 2015.
It’s time for him to pitch like a veteran and give the Phillies a chance to win every time he steps to the mound. This could be a make-or-break season for Eickhoff
Aaron Nola (12-11 with a 3.54 ERA) leads the Phillies rotation. Eickhoff, Ben Lively (4-7, 4.26 ERA), Jake Thompson (1-3, 3.88 ERA), Mark Leiter Jr. (3-6, 4.96 ERA) and Nick Pivetta (8-8, 6.02 ERA) are expected to compete for spots. Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez figure to be in the mix once healthy.
“I think it’s going to be very competitive,” Eickhoff said. “I say it every year, and I truly mean it. I compete for a job every year. It’s going to be competitive, and it’s going to breed a positive end result.”