The grind came to a halt Wednesday, at 12:48 p.m., when Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan jogged toward the mound. Jerad Eickhoff was in distress. He had thrown 44 pitches, just two harder than 90 mph, and Atlanta clobbered him in the first three innings of a 9-1 Phillies loss in the first game of a doubleheader.
Eickhoff has not been the same pitcher in 2017 as the one who generated promise a season ago. He has maintained his health despite persistent questioning. Phillies officials could not pinpoint a cause for the decline in Eickhoff’s stuff; he had not appeared on the team’s injury report.
Not until Wednesday.
“I just kind of felt it in that third inning there,” Eickhoff said. “I felt tingling in my hand. Almost like numbness or weakness in it. I just couldn’t exactly feel the baseball. That’s never a good thing.”
The remainder of the 27-year-old right-hander’s season is in doubt. The team diagnosed him with nerve irritation in his right hand. He will stay in Philadelphia and undergo tests this week as his teammates begin an 11-game road trip.
The Phillies lost both games Wednesday to seal a fifth consecutive losing season. The second game featured a better pitching performance from Mark Leiter Jr., but still ended in a 5-2 defeat. The team said 15,706 people paid to attend both games, but by the end of the doubleheader, entire sections at Citizens Bank Park were vacated. The Phillies played two doubleheaders in nine days, and they resulted in four losses.
The trouble for Eickhoff, who allowed six runs in two innings, mattered more than the scores. Eickhoff repeatedly has described his season as “a grind.” Something has not looked right for quite some time.
Eickhoff had a brief chat with Sheridan. Catcher Jorge Alfaro patted his pitcher on the butt. Eickhoff stuffed the ball in his glove and exited the field. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and disappeared down the dugout steps.
“He’ll most likely go on the DL,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “That hasn’t been announced. That hasn’t been determined yet. But they’re still in the process of just checking on it.”
Will he pitch again this season?
“Me, being optimistic, yeah,” Eickhoff said. “I’m going to keep pushing through it. Whatever kind of rehab they want me to do, we’re going to try to keep working through it. I want to keep pitching. That’s what my job is. That’s what I expect to do.”
His second pitch of the game was an 86-mph fastball. Mackanin said everyone in the dugout noticed. Eickhoff did not appear to favor anything while on the mound.
His ERA ballooned to 4.71.
“It’s unfortunate,” Eickhoff said. “It’s really frustrating. You prepare your body to do this all offseason and treat your body like I do and work like I do, it’s just frustrating to get that.”
If Eickhoff is to miss time, the Phillies are faced with an innings shortage. Jake Thompson is one logical rotation replacement. Zach Eflin, Drew Anderson, Elniery Garcia, and Mark Appel are the only other starting pitchers on the 40-man roster. Eflin is sidelined by a shoulder ailment. Anderson, on an innings cap, could be shut down for the season after his next start at triple A. Garcia has made just six starts in the minors since returning from a drug suspension. Appel has not pitched since July 5 because of a strained right shoulder.
Thomas Eshelman has enjoyed success at triple A, but he too is subject to an innings limit. Henderson Alvarez, signed last week to a minor-league deal after pitching in independent ball, is one possible option.
With a depleted rotation, Leiter will have every chance in the season’s final five weeks to prove his value. He allowed three runs in 6 2/3 innings Wednesday. He struck out six and walked one. Atlanta hit some balls hard; Leiter pitched in every inning but one with a runner on base. But he avoided serious damage.
The rookie right-hander has a 3.88 ERA in 65 innings this season. He has provided a pleasant surprise. But the disappointments have outweighed the surprises.
Do the Phillies have enough pitching to survive the final 30 games?
“Yeah,” Mackanin said. “We’ll figure it out.”