CHICAGO - When the Phillies removed Jerad Eickhoff from an eventual 5-3 win Wednesday with six solid innings that required 71 pitches, manager Pete Mackanin said it was because he wanted his pitcher to leave Illinois with positive vibes.
Eickhoff was surprised. These days, the Phillies are ultra-conscious about their starters. They cannot afford more issues in a young rotation that will struggle to reach the season's conclusion. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure informed Eickhoff of their decision.
"What they said is they want me to make every start this year and be healthy," Eickhoff said. "You can't complain about that. I'm very lucky and very fortunate to be healthy this year."
Eickhoff's 71 pitches were his fewest in a start not affected by weather this season. The Phillies will enforce innings limits next month on some of their young arms, but Eickhoff is supposed to be exempt from that. He is 26. He threw 184 innings between the minors and majors last season. He has so far resembled a workhorse, and that is what the Phillies expect he will eventually become. One could argue that, in this rotation, he has earned that label.
Still, the Phillies handle him with care.
"It's a no-brainer," Eickhoff said. "It's part of the game. I was just happy to get through it and be done and be healthy."
Said Mackanin: "We won, so I guess I made the right move."
Eickhoff faced the minimum through five innings. He bent in the sixth inning, a problem all season, but did not break.
His teammates supported him with extra base hits. Both Cesar Hernandez and Tommy Joseph blasted solo homers. Joseph added a double and scored on an Aaron Altherr single. Freddy Galvis drove a double to the gap to score Altherr.
An aside: Joseph's 17 homers are nothing short of incredible. He was removed from the 40-man roster last winter, went unclaimed in the Rule 5 draft, and entered the spring as a forgotten man. He hit just 14 homers in the minors over the previous three seasons. He did not arrive to the majors until mid-May, and he ranks third on the team in homers.
"Yeah," Joseph said. "Anytime you hit any kind of homer is awesome."
The former catching prospect has made himself into a major-league power hitter.
But he is not a lock for 2017 like Eickhoff is. The Phillies will enter next season with great questions about their rotation. Eickhoff, barring injury, will be in it. He has a 3.87 ERA this season. He is the only Phillies pitcher to take the ball every fifth day in 2016.
"He's been the guy who has been the most consistent," Mackanin said. "He's given us what we wanted. He's had some hiccups. He cruised through the first five innings. I expect him to pitch well every time he goes out. I feel confident in him."
Eickhoff did not pound the strike zone Wednesday as he normally does. But the White Sox could not solve him. He threw just 52 pitches to complete five innings. Eickhoff's ERA is 2.64 in innings one through five this season. It jumps to 12.32 in the sixth inning.
"It's nothing that I'm worried about or concerned about," Eickhoff said.
Avasail Garcia started the sixth with a single to center. Veteran catcher Dioner Navarro jumped ahead to a 2-0 count and smashed a 91-mph Eickhoff fastball to deep right. That cut the lead in half.
Tyler Saladino squibbed an infield single on a first-pitch fastball. The Phillies stirred in the bullpen. Eickhoff responded with three outs on 13 pitches.
He would have continued had he pitched for a contending team. But this is a rebuilding one, so Eickhoff's night ended at six solid innings.