Analysis

After 2017, future of pitching staff remains uncertain

Over the next three days, we’ll be tackling some of the bigger questions we had going into the 2017 season. 

Our first question: Can anyone in the pitching staff step up and join Aaron Nola as a potential piece for the future?

Expectations were high for Jerad Eickhoff in 2017, when last year he was arguably the Phillies’ best pitcher. He pitched just shy of 200 innings, issued just 42 walks – fifth fewest in the league among qualified pitchers, and had an ERA of 3.65. Eickhoff was dependable – making all of his scheduled starts – and reliable. You knew what you were getting out of Jerad Eickhoff: someone who’d give you a chance to win every time out.

Though the right-hander was solid last year, he struggled through the second and third time through the orders, often limiting him to six or seven innings. He’s only pitched more than seven innings once in his career. Eickhoff’s ERA the third time through the order was 6.85 was year.

That was a point of emphasis for Eickhoff to improve on this season, and unfortunately, it didn’t come to fruition. The 27-year-old struggled with not only his command – walking more batters this year in 128 innings than last year – but also his durability. Eickhoff made two separate trips to the disabled list, one in June with a back injury, and nerve irritation in his right hand that ended his season in August. The third-year veteran also had an ERA of 5.05 and 6.12 through the second and third time through lineups this season, respectively.

It’s difficult to gauge the development of a player through an injury-riddled season, but Eickhoff becoming a top-line, or even a No. 3 starter, is bleak at best. He simply doesn’t have the stuff for it. Eickhoff has a good out-pitch, his curveball, but it isn’t enough. He doesn’t have the luxury of blowing guys away, which makes location paramount. His third and fourth pitches (slider and changeup) aren’t fully developed. The right-hander took a step back this year, and is no more than a fourth starter, for now.

If not Eickhoff, like we had hoped, who can the Phillies bank on for a trusted, reliable arm for next year?

The jury is still out on Jake Thompson, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin. Of the four, Pivetta showed the best translatable stuff but couldn’t limit walks and home runs. Then there’s Vince Velasquez, who will need a vote of confidence from everyone (including himself) before anyone pencils him into the Phils’ long-term plans.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an easy answer. But the young pitcher who’s most earned himself a roster spot for next year: Adam Morgan.

How can you ignore the rebirth of a once forgotten arm? Morgan’s ERA was 8.59 in June; he ended the season with a 4.12 mark. Over his last 21 appearances, 19 were scoreless. He’s struck out 33 batters in his last 26.2 innings. He dominated left-handed hitting. He’s now throwing in the mid-to-high 90s, which makes his breaking pitches more effective. Right now, he and Eickhoff are moving in opposite directions. Morgan’s stuff has gotten better, while the starter’s has either remained the same, or regressed.

Morgan’s success has been a breath of fresh air, albeit it has been for one of the worst teams in baseball. It’ll be interesting to how he fares at the start of next season, because, he’s a lock in for the ‘pen.

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