Phillies (58-68) at White Sox (60-64)
8:10 p.m. on CSN
The Phillies' brief two-game series with the White Sox ends tonight at U.S. Cellular Field. The Phils were pounded, 9-1, on Tuesday as they lost for the fifth time in seven games. They've been outscored 50-20 in those seven games.
Let's take a look at the series finale:
1. Get 'em through six
The Phillies turn to Jerad Eickhoff, who has been the most consistent of their many young right-handers. Eickhoff is 8-12 with a 3.91 ERA, and he's pitched at least six innings in 16 of his 25 starts.
That's notable at the moment because the Phillies aren't getting much length from any of their other young starters. Jake Thompson has averaged fewer than five innings in his four starts. Vince Velasquez is averaging 5.1 innings over his last four. Adam Morgan has averaged 4.3.
Unlike the others, Eickhoff has progressed rather than regressed this season. He hit a rough patch in April and early May and the struggles taught him to use his slider more. He went from being a three-pitch pitcher to a four-pitch pitcher, and the success of his slider made his fastball, sinker and curveball more effective.
That's the kind of adjustment a young pitcher needs to make. The adjustments for the others are pretty clear: Velasquez needs to mix his pitches better and get outs earlier in counts, while Thompson needs to throw more first-pitch strikes and get his slider below waist level.
Games in AL parks are always tougher on pitchers because of the DH, but Eickhoff has thrown well in both of his interleague starts in AL stadiums this season. He allowed one earned run in six innings at Target Field in Minnesota and pitched six shutout innings at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
It should benefit him that these White Sox hitters have never seen him. Players who don't have experience against Eickhoff tend to be frozen by his big hook.
2. Benefit of fresh arms
The Phillies' bullpen has been taxed lately because of the injuries and ineffectiveness of the starting rotation. Phils relievers have pitched an average of 3.9 innings per game in August. The starters have accounted for only 57 percent of the innings pitched. Not good.
Thankfully, the Phillies have been able to turn to somewhat fresh relievers.
Edubray Ramos has made 23 appearances in July and August and shown flashes. He's struck out 29 and walked just six in 25⅓ innings this season.
Michael Mariot, who missed the first six weeks of the season with an ankle injury, has a 3.24 ERA and has allowed just four baserunners in 8⅓ innings.
Manager Pete Mackanin spoke last week about wanting a few more relievers when rosters expand on Sept. 1. It would allow the Phillies to give Hector Neris more rest. Neris hasn't exactly been overworked — he's made 63 appearances and is on pace for 81 — but it could only help to lessen his load as the season nears its conclusion.
Neris continues to dominate, by the way. He's pitched 7⅔ scoreless innings in a row with 14 strikeouts. In 64⅓ innings this season, he has a 2.24 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 82 strikeouts and 18 walks. His opponents have hit .195.
3. Not the same James
The Phillies face veteran right-hander James Shields, who is having by far the worst year of his career. Shields, who began the year with the Padres before being traded at the beginning of June, is 5-15 with a 5.98 ERA.
His numbers are even worse with Chicago — 3-8 with a 7.62 ERA and 1.82 WHIP. Everyone's pounding him — lefties, righties, good teams, bad teams. Shields' opponents have hit .297 with a .902 OPS. It's caused him to shy away from contact more and his walk rate has risen from 2.3 per nine in his previous 10 seasons to 4.3 this year.
Most teams stayed away from Shields in free agency prior to 2015 because of all the wear and tear on his arm. He was about to turn 33, and he had pitched an average of 223 innings over an eight-year span heading into that offseason. (He also pitched 60 total innings in the playoffs during those years.)
Those concerns appear to have been warranted, as Shields' stuff has declined in his mid-30s. Shields' fastball averaged 92.3 mph from 2012 to 2014 and is down to 90.4 this season.
His changeup has always been his best pitch, even in recent years. From 2012 to 2015, his opponents hit .215 in 1,044 at-bats ending in a changeup. This season they've hit .263 with 14 extra-base hits, six of which were homers.
The Phillies saw Shields in the 2008 World Series. That was his third big-league season. A few Phils have hit him well — Odubel Herrera is 4 for 6; Peter Bourjos is 5 for 10 with a double and a homer.
4. Platooning Herrera?
Herrera has sat against most left-handed starting pitchers recently. Mackanin and the Phillies are trying to get him back to hitting the way he was earlier in the season, when he was seeing a ton of pitches and utilizing the opposite field. He hit .294 with a .378 on-base percentage in the first half but has hit .252 with a .321 OBP since the All-Star break.
Interestingly, Herrera fared well last season against lefties. He hit .293 against them in 123 at-bats as a rookie. In 2016, he's hit .225 against them in 120 at-bats. But a lot of those failures have come against left-handed relievers, who by nature are stingier against same-handed hitters because that's their specialty.
Herrera, whose bat was missing from Tuesday's lineup against tough lefty Carlos Rodon, is actually hitting .309 (25 for 81) with a .398 OBP this season vs. left-handed starters. Against lefty relievers, he's 2 for 39.
5. Cell tower power
U.S. Cellular Field is the only active big-league stadium in which Ryan Howard has never played. He sat last night but is expected to start tonight against the right-hander Shields.
Howard, who has taken Shields deep before, has homered in 25 of the 33 parks he's played in. If he hits one out tonight, that would be 26.
It's not out of the realm of possibility given how locked in Howard has been. Over his last 13 games, he's 16 for 43 (.375) with four doubles, five homers and 13 RBIs. He's third in the majors in slugging percentage (.814) over that span, behind only Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon.