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Eickhoff impresses Phils by limiting Cubs

PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have four rookies, one almost-rookie and one veteran in their six-man rotation.

The five youths should consider their starts auditions for favorite status entering Spring Training in February. There is no question rookie Aaron Nola leads the pack, but rookie Jerad Eickhoff continued to make a strong case for himself Saturday night in a 7-5 Phillies victory over the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. Eickhoff allowed three hits, one run, three walks and struck out a career-high eight in seven innings.

"Right now, I'm not really thinking about it or worried about it," Eickhoff said about his potential spot in next season's rotation. "I'm trying to go every five days, or whenever they tell me to throw, and go as long as I can. I think that's all I can do."

Eickhoff, whom the Phillies acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade, is 1-3 with a 3.90 ERA in five starts. Remove his start against the Red Sox in Boston last weekend -- he allowed six runs in four innings -- and Eickhoff has a 2.42 ERA in four starts against the Marlins, Mets (twice) and Cubs.

"He was outstanding tonight," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "He looked determined, to me. It looked like he was out there to establish himself."

Eickhoff allowed just one hit through 6 1/3 innings - a first-pitch fastball that Kyle Schwarber hit for a solo home run in the third inning -- before allowing a couple of singles in the seventh. But Eickhoff otherwise kept the Cubs off-balance. He mixed his fastball with an excellent curveball, striking out seven of his eight batters with curveballs.

"It felt good," Eickhoff said about his curveball. "In the [bullpen] it was OK, then I think the first one I threw in the game, it was almost to the backstop, but I was able to make the adjustment and get it back in the zone."

The other pitchers in the Phillies' rotation other than Eickhoff and Nola (6-2, 3.56 ERA in 10 starts) are veteran Aaron Harang (5-15, 5.02 ERA in 25 starts), second-year pitcher David Buchanan (2-8, 9.11 ERA in 11 starts), rookie Adam Morgan (5-6, 4.60 ERA in 14 starts) and rookie Alec Asher (0-3, 10.67 ERA in three starts). Harang is not expected to return next season, but Eickhoff, Nola, Morgan, Buchanan and Asher will be in camp.

Their performances in Spring Training will matter, but strong performances during the regular season, when the pressure is on and the results matter, will give those pitchers an extra benefit of the doubt as Opening Day 2016 approaches.

In that sense, Eickhoff is putting himself in a good spot with three more starts scheduled: Sept. 19 in Atlanta, Sept. 26 in Washington and Oct. 3 against the Marlins.

"It was a pleasure to watch him pitch," Mackanin said. "We've been struggling with the starters. It's great to see a good pitching performance from a guy like him."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast.
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