It appeared the Phillies had their starting rotation set when they went out and signed prized free agent pitcher Jake Arrieta earlier this week.
So much for that, with reports emerging from Clearwater this morning that Jerad Eickhoff is set to miss 6-8 weeks with a lat strain.
Jerad Eickhoff has a mild lat strain and is out 6-8 weeks. He will not throw for 7-10 more days and will have to restart his spring training program. #Phillies
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) March 16, 2018
Not ideal. The injury news makes the former Cy Young Award winner’s arrival all the more important as a rotation already filled with question marks takes a significant hit. Or maybe it doesn’t.
Eickhoff struggled mightily last season. He made only 24 starts thanks to two separate stints on the disabled list and watched his ERA balloon by more than a run after a promising 2016 campaign. This latest setback could potentially cloud the future of a guy who, suddenly, has become a legitimate injury concern over the past calendar year.
As for his replacement, the door now opens for the slew of young arms who were competing for the final spot in the rotation prior to the Arrieta signing. Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Zach Eflin, and Tom Eshelman are the candidates.
If spring training performance is a factor, and it should be, one would think the nod will go to Leiter.
The 27-year-old has posted a 1.93 ERA and 0.75 WHIP over 9.1 innings this spring, while striking out 13 batters and walking only one.
Last season, he posted a respectable 8.3 K/9 and 1.34 WHIP over 90.2 IP as a rookie. He was particularly good at home where he posted a 3.06 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP over 12 appearances that spanned 50 innings. His primary issue is that he doesn’t have a pitch or quality that separates him from the competition. He only completed seven innings once in his 11 starts.
Of course, the Phillies could also opt to re-enter the free agency fray and sign a guy like Alex Cobb, who is the best remaining arm on the market. That seems unlikely for multiple reasons. General manager Matt Klentak told reporters earlier this week that he expects his team to be done in free agency for the time being. The Phillies are also stocked with back-end of the rotation types, so a short-term injury to Eickhoff shouldn’t alter the organization’s approach at this point in the spring.
In terms of how the injury impacts the Phillies’ success this season, well, that probably depends upon your expectations for Eickhoff. Is he the workhorse who threw 197 innings over 33 starts, while posting a 1.160 WHIP two seasons ago, or is he the guy who was hit around at a more frequent rate and walked batters at nearly twice the rate from the year prior? The answer, as it often does, probably lies somewhere in between. Nothing against Eickhoff, who is a competent starting pitcher and certainly worthy of a spot in this rotation out of Clearwater, but it’s my belief his production can be replicated by his eventual replacement.