Jerad Eickhoff Out For 6-8 Weeks With Lat Injury
It has been less than a week since the Phillies made a major rotation upgrade, and already there are chinks in the solidified pitching staff.
Eickhoff out 6 to 8 weeks w lat strain.
— Jim Salisbury (@JSalisburyNBCS) March 16, 2018
This is a bigger blow for long term implications that it is for the Phillies in the immediate future. This is a similar injury to the one that caused Eickhoff to miss time last year. After the 2016 season, it looked like Eickhoff might be a 180-200 innings workhorse, and now there are real questions about his ability to stay healthy. With Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta in the rotation the Phillies were already going to be in need of innings from their bullpen, this opens up a larger burden on the pen to cover innings this year, and potentially in the future. It is also fair to worry about what Eickhoff’s success will be when he gets back on the mound.
As for the short term, there is still about 2 weeks left of spring training, and the Phillies don’t actually need a 5th starter for the first two weeks of the season, so this really could only affect the team for 2-4 weeks of the regular season, but they still are faced with some short term questions on how to plug the hole.
The most basic first option is to just reopen the #5 starter competition. Ben Lively, Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, and Tom Eshelman have all looked fine this spring. The Phillies could choose one (Lively and Eflin look like the front runners) and have them in the #5 spot in the rotation. By keeping a 5 man rotation they give everyone a bit more rest, hopefully easing full season workloads and aiding in effectiveness on the starts that are made with the extra rest. The Phillies would also run an 8 man rotation with someone like Mark Leiter in a long man role to limit their #5 starter to 5-6 innings. This has the added bonus of opening up a AAA rotation spot.
They could also just opt to go with an improvised 4 man rotation with Mark Leiter as the swing starter. The Phillies don’t need a 5th starter, so they could open with a 4 man rotation and 8 man bullpen with Mark Leiter Jr. functionally as the 5th starter. They wouldn’t have to stick to a true 4 man rotation, and they also wouldn’t need to stick to a straight 5 man order, instead inserting Leiter into the rotation when they want to get the extra day of rest. This also opens another bench spot which they could use to carry to utility players, another corner bat, or go crazy and bring Scott Kingery to the majors.
Then there is Alex Cobb. Cobb still would cost them a draft pick (4th rd) and international money (bringing total penalties to $1.5M). Cobb would be an upgrade on any of the #5 starter candidates, but this is where we return to the timeline. If Cobb isn’t ready for opening day, you are looking at him replacing the #5 starter for 2-4 weeks or 3-5 starts and then probably Nick Pivetta for the rest of the year. So if you are already ok with not replacing Pivetta with Cobb because of the signing penalty, 3-5 starts likely does not change that calculus.
I think the likely answer is the Phillies go with Ben Lively because he will at least throw those 5-6 innings and you can protect him from going through the order multiple times. Unlike Eflin, Thompson, and Eshelman he doesn’t have much to work on and is finished product. The real concern is what Jeard Eickhoff shows up in early May.