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Eickhoff takes step toward regular season

Pitcher continues to work out kinks with secondary pitches
Special to MLB.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff repeatedly found himself digging out of holes of his own making on Friday afternoon.

Eickhoff allowed four earned runs on five hits over 3 1/3 innings, taking the loss in a 5-4 decision vs. Pittsburgh on an unseasonably cold day at Spectrum Field. He struck out three and walked none. The Phillies' current No. 2 starter allowed the leadoff man to get aboard in three of the four innings he started. Each time it cost him at least one run.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff repeatedly found himself digging out of holes of his own making on Friday afternoon.

Eickhoff allowed four earned runs on five hits over 3 1/3 innings, taking the loss in a 5-4 decision vs. Pittsburgh on an unseasonably cold day at Spectrum Field. He struck out three and walked none. The Phillies' current No. 2 starter allowed the leadoff man to get aboard in three of the four innings he started. Each time it cost him at least one run.

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"It was just one of those weird situations," Eickhoff said of the first-batter hiccups. "I felt good. I felt comfortable. I felt in control of myself out there. It just didn't play out."

Eickhoff said that part of the reason was not being able to spot his breaking stuff to put hitters away when he was ahead early in the counts.

"He grinded through four solid innings," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "He was able to spot his fastball a couple times and, overall, it was a strong performance."

The Pirates jumped on Eickhoff early with a sacrifice fly to right off the bat of Jordan Luplow that scored Adam Frazier, who doubled to lead off the game. Elias Diaz led off the second with a home run to left on a slider that hung over the plate.

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Eickhoff again let the first batter of the inning reach after Pirates pitcher Steven Brault lined a single down the left-field line in the third. A single by Frazier, and another sac fly by Luplow plated Brault. The next batter, Josh Bell, doubled just out of the reach of a sprinting Rhys Hoskins to bring in Frazier.

Eickhoff did manage to get the first batter he faced in the fourth, Max Moroff, who lined out, but he was relieved by righty Ricardo Pinto, who recorded the final two outs.

Kapler made the switch after checking with how his pitcher felt about his last few breaking balls. Once Eickhoff said he liked the execution, the manager went to the bullpen so that the fourth-year starter can carry it over to his next appearance.

"One thing he is very consistent with since the moment I met him is his ability to land his curveball in the zone for a strike, and then drop it out of the strike zone to get a swing and miss, but he is also pretty good at pitching off of that curveball with his other pitches," Kapler said.

While his curveball might have been a bit off, Eickhoff was pleased with how his changeup looked against the Pirates. Eickhoff has been experimenting with more of a palmball-style grip on his straight change this spring. Eickhoff admitted that he may have been too reliant on his curveball and slider, which he would frequently use like a changeup, last season.

"I'm really happy with the speed, and the counts that I'm throwing it in has been getting a lot of really good feedback, so it's really exciting," Eickhoff said. "I'm trying to go with this [grip] as long as I can. It seems to be something I can control in the zone and locate, so I'm going keep rolling with it."

"He's not that far away from having all four of his pitches working effectively," Kapler said.

J. Scott Butherus is a contributor to MLB.com.

Philadelphia Phillies, Jerad Eickhoff