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Leiter doing his best to stick in big leagues

Phillies righty impresses manager in loss to Phillies
Special to MLB.com

PHILADELPHIA -- In each of his first three Major League starts, Mark Leiter Jr. gave the Phillies exactly what they needed: A chance to win.

While the offense could not come through in Leiter's latest outing Tuesday, a 3-0 loss to the Pirates, the right-handed rookie limited damage against him. Leiter gave up two runs on four hits and struck out five in 5 1/3 innings. The outing put his ERA as a starter at 3.31, nearly 1 1/2  runs lower (4.74) than it was in 12 appearances as a relief pitcher.

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PHILADELPHIA -- In each of his first three Major League starts, Mark Leiter Jr. gave the Phillies exactly what they needed: A chance to win.

While the offense could not come through in Leiter's latest outing Tuesday, a 3-0 loss to the Pirates, the right-handed rookie limited damage against him. Leiter gave up two runs on four hits and struck out five in 5 1/3 innings. The outing put his ERA as a starter at 3.31, nearly 1 1/2  runs lower (4.74) than it was in 12 appearances as a relief pitcher.

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"I was trying to go as deep as I can and keep the team in the game as long as possible," Leiter said. "As a starting pitcher, that's the goal."

Leiter has been filling out the Phillies' rotation since Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with an upper back strain on June 20. Eickhoff made a rehab start for Double-A Reading on Tuesday and likely will return to the Phillies on Sunday, meaning Leiter's stint in the rotation is probably over for now.

Manager Pete Mackanin said that he hoped the Phillies would keep Leiter in the Majors as a reliever, but he had not yet talked to general manager Matt Klentak about Leiter's future.

Whether he stays in the Majors as a reliever or heads back to Triple-A Lehigh Valley as a starter, Leiter has a lot to take away from the last two weeks.

Leiter was impressive in his first Major League start, throwing six scoreless innings with just three hits and one walk in a June 23 win over the D-backs. He gave up three homers, nine hits and four runs over five innings against the Mariners in his second outing, but the 26-year-old bounced back with a cleaner line on Tuesday.

With a large crowd of family and friends on hand for his first start at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, Leiter got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third inning with just one run charged against him. The only other damage came when Andrew McCutchen smacked his 15th homer of the season to left field in the sixth.

"He knows how to pitch. He has about six or seven different pitches that he uses all the time," Mackanin said. "He got the ball up late in the game. But you got to like his performances, the way he's come in and helped out the rotation. I like him a lot."

Leiter -- who was sent back to Triple-A in early June -- posted a 1.163 WHIP in the three starts and was much better at limiting his walks as a starter. He had only three bases on balls in 16 1/3 innings as a starter in 2017, after walking 14 batters in 19 innings out of the bullpen.

"Taking a step away, getting sent down allowed me to relax a little bit more," Leiter said. "The walks kind of added up in a few outings, where I walked a few guys and was playing catch up."

Stephen Pianovich is a contributor for MLB.com based in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia Phillies, Mark Leiter