Jerad Eickhoff is going, going gone.
After giving up 16 home runs in his last six starts, including five Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Eickhoff has been removed from the Phillies' rotation and relegated to the bullpen, manager Gabe Kapler said Tuesday. The Phillies have not yet selected a starting pitcher for Sunday's game in Atlanta against the rival Braves.
"Everything is on the table," Kapler said.
That includes an "opener," the increasingly popular strategy of using a reliever to begin the game. The Phillies used an opener for the first time on June 1 when lefty reliever Jose Alvarez tossed two scoreless innings in a start at Dodger Stadium.
Another, more conventional option would be to call up rookie left-hander Cole Irvin from Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Irvin has a 5.60 ERA in three starts for the Phillies and a 5.48 ERA in four appearances overall. Kapler also listed lefty Ranger Suarez and starter-turned-reliever Vince Velasquez as considerations, although Velasquez has taken on a prominent role in the Phillies' injury-ravaged bullpen.
"I think there's a need to be sensitive to that because we're trying to make this transition," Kapler said. "To all of a sudden pull him out of that routine, I'm not sure that that's best for Vince and I'm not sure that's best for the Phillies. Maybe the best move for Vince is to let him settle into a bullpen role. We're going to need him there for a while."
Eickhoff has been hit hard lately. After not giving up a homer through 31 innings after getting called up from Triple-A in mid-April, he has allowed 16 homers in his last 27 1/3 innings.
The situation came to a head on Monday night when Eickhoff gave up back-to-back-to-back homers to open the game and a pair of two-run homers in the fourth inning of a 13-8 loss at Citizens Bank Park.
"I'm obviously frustrated," Eickhoff said. "But in the grand scheme of things, I wasn't getting the job done. That's what I pride myself on. I would say my last three of four (starts) it wasn't up to my standards or up to theirs either. I have to make some subtle adjustments, and I'm going to do that in the bullpen."
Without using the actual word -- "tipping" -- Eickhoff suggested he might have been inadvertently revealing which pitches were coming against the Milwaukee Brewers, who scored nine runs on 13 hits, including four homers, against him in seven innings over two starts last month.
"There was some stuff going on with the Brewers, specifically," Eickhoff said. "We adjusted to it, and I've got to adjust to the physical part in my mechanics. It's just all things that over the course of a season you're going to have to deal with. There's some subtle adjustments. My arm was dragging a little bit, and that's everything for me. If a ball's flat, it's just conducive for hitting, so I've got to adjust to that."
It's unclear how Eickhoff best fits out of the bullpen. He doesn't profile as a typical reliever because he doesn't throw particularly hard. Success for Eickhoff hinges on hitting his spots and changing speeds with his curveball and slider.
If the Phillies choose to use an opener more regularly, it's conceivable that Eickhoff could come in after a lefty reliever and pitch multiple innings. Kapler also didn't rule out the possibility of Eickhoff rejoining the rotation once he works through his issues.
"I don't think Jerad's struggles recently have been a result of him starting or coming into a game at a later period of the game," Kapler said. "When Jerad is on and throwing the ball like we know he can, it probably doesn't matter when he comes into a game."
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