CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Jerad Eickhoff took his latest first step on Sunday morning at Spectrum Field. He threw a bullpen session, his first since sustaining a setback last month following carpal tunnel surgery in October.
"I was kind of restraining myself with the excitement," Eickhoff said.
Eickhoff has made only three big league appearances since August 2017 because of nerve issues in his right fingers. There have been multiple times when he thought he had recovered, only to have the tingling and numbing sensation in his fingertips return. But this time -- yes, this time -- Eickhoff is optimistic he can put those issues behind him and be the pitcher that in '15 made former Phillies teammate Jeff Francoeur declare: "I've got a man crush. If none of the other guys [in the Cole Hamels trade with Texas] ever pan out, he's worth it alone."
:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::
Eickhoff, 28, said he needed the carpal tunnel surgery in October, but he now believes there were two points of restriction on the troublesome nerve. The procedure resolved one of those restrictions. Eickhoff said medication and therapy should resolve the other.
At least, that is what Eickhoff hopes.
"I've had the rug pulled out under me before, so I've had a lot of cautious optimism, but it's been feeling great," Eickhoff said.
Eickhoff went 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA in eight starts as a rookie in 2015. He finished 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts in '16, pitching so well that he was a candidate to be the '17 Opening Day starter. (Jeremy Hellickson got the nod instead.) Eickhoff compiled a 4-8 record with a 4.71 ERA in 24 starts in '17 before being shut down.
If Eickhoff had not sustained the setback last month, it is not unreasonable to think he could have competed with Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez for a job in the Phillies' rotation. But right now, Eickhoff just wants to keep progressing.
"First and foremost, it's getting healthy," Eickhoff said. "Getting to that point where I'm throwing live BPs, and I'm able to get in games and I'm completely symptom-free, and it's behind me, and the trust is there, and all of that."
Eickhoff has more than a few fans in the organization pulling for him. Several stepped outside to watch his bullpen.
"He's so well liked," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "He's such a good person. I was talking to Nick and asked why he was out there early, and he said he was really excited for Jerad's bullpen. I just don't think that's normal. We do support each other, but to see that large group out there? Everybody wanted the same thing, just have him come out of that bullpen healthy."
Bring on the squad
The Phillies will hold their first full-squad workout on Monday. Kapler is having a team dinner on Monday night, which is when he will present his remarks and thoughts. Last year, Kapler put together a video with guest appearances from Philly athletes like Carson Wentz, Ben Simmons and Claude Giroux, and even pop star Justin Timberlake.
Kapler declined to say if he had any surprises planned for Monday night, but he said there could be a few surprise guests at camp this spring.