Eickhoff fans seven in Grapefruit debut

March 22nd, 2016

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The important thing is that right-hander Jerad Eickhoff is on course to pitch during the first week of the season.

Eickhoff made his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday in a 7-5 loss to the Twins at Bright House Field. He allowed four hits, three runs and two walks and struck out seven in four innings against a split squad that had four players from the Twins' projected Opening Day lineup, plus top prospect Byron Buxton.

"It was good to get that adrenaline going again in a game setting," Eickhoff said. "There was some good and there were some things I could have done better, but I think overall I was happy with how the outing went."

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"He was rusty," manager Pete Mackanin said, "but he was fine."

Eickhoff walked right fielder Miguel Sano twice and allowed a pair of solo home runs to Minor League first baseman Daniel Palka, who will open the season in Double-A.

"He was getting me on the heaters there early," Eickhoff said. "I think it's just one of those things. I'm trying to fill up the strike zone, and the ball kind of got up and got out."

Eickhoff left the game encouraged with his breaking ball and changeup.

"The changeup was really good," he said. "I thought today I threw a handful of good ones for swings and misses, a good four or five of them. For me that was a big lightning bolt in my head for sure."

Eickhoff had been behind schedule after fracturing his right thumb while bunting in February. Interestingly, he swung away in a bunt situation in the second inning with runners at the corners with one out. Mackanin called it a miscommunication, indicating they wanted a bunt.

"I've been starting to swing the past couple of days, so to get back in the box, I was kind of a nervous wreck," Eickhoff said. "But I got it done, broke a bat. If I had to bunt, I had to bunt. But they didn't ask me."

Who's the closer?

Opening Day is 13 days away, and the Phillies need a closer.

Mackanin said that right-hander Andrew Bailey (5.40 ERA) is probably the frontrunner. Bailey allowed four hits and three runs in the seventh inning on Tuesday to blow a save after not allowing a run in his first four appearances.

"I want to see more velocity out of him," Mackanin said. "I know he can pitch. He's a true competitor. He has that good curve ball and cutter. But I want to see more velocity."

There are other candidates to close. David Hernandez is behind schedule because of tendinitis in his right triceps and appeared in his first Grapefruit League game on Monday. Dalier Hinojosa has allowed two earned runs in six innings.

Bailey and Hernandez have some closing experience. Hinojosa does not, but he had a 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances last season, and Mackanin has no problem having a closer without any closing experience.

"I go by what I saw from Hinojosa last year and this spring," Mackanin said. "He's aggressive. He throws strikes. He's got that split and a slider. A changeup as well. He's a competitor. He's in the mix. They're all in the mix. It's a big mix."

The Phillies have 15 healthy relievers in camp. Bailey, Hernandez, Hinojosa, Edward Mujica, Jeanmar Gomez and Brett Oberholtzer are favorites for six spots. The seventh job is more wide open.

"All the way to the end," Mackanin said about how long the bullpen battle will last. "We have to start eliminating some guys, mainly because we don't have enough innings for everybody. We got a good look out of everybody. Everybody has had a fair shake in that regard, including the position players. So now we just need to whittle it down. We're running out of time."

Left-hander James Russell has made a case for a job. Two errors in the sixth put runners on second and third and no outs, but Russell, a non-roster invitee, got a popout to first and struck out two to end the threat.

"That's the sign of a Major League pitcher," Mackanin said. "When you can do something like that, boy, that's special."

Russell is competing with left-handers Daniel Stumpf and Bobby LaFromboise for a spot in the bullpen.

Worth noting:

• Right-hander Vince Velasquez allowed six hits, three runs (one earned run) and one walk and struck out five in 5 2/3 innings in a Minor League game at Carpenter Complex. Velasquez is competing with left-hander Adam Morgan for the No. 5 job in the rotation.

• The Phillies optioned right-hander Severino Gonzalez (7.50 ERA) to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, leaving 48 players in camp. Eight of those players are injured or coming back from injuries: right-handers Frank Herrmann (elbow), Michael Mariot (ankle) and Yoervis Medina (elbow); left-handers Matt Harrison (back) and Mario Hollands (elbow); and outfielders Odubel Herrera (finger), Cody Asche (oblique) and Aaron Altherr (wrist).