Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's rough patch may be over

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's rough patch may be over

Phillies (30-60) at Marlins (41-49)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Nick Williams' game-winning grand slam gave the Phillies something to feel good about as they flew from Milwaukee to Miami Sunday night.

The Phils are at Marlins Park for three games this week before returning home for a 10-game homestand. When this series ends, the Phils will have played 52 of their 93 games on the road.

1. Two in a row for Eickhoff?
Jerad Eickhoff returned from the disabled list on the final day of the first half, just in time to strike out eight Padres in five scoreless innings to pick up his first win of 2017.

Eickhoff (1-7, 4.63) had his great curveball working that afternoon and also had command of his fastball. When he has both, he's tough to beat. 

Eickhoff's last two starts have each been solid, with him allowing one run on 10 hits with 10 strikeouts in 11 innings. Both games were at Citizens Bank Park.

Keep an eye tonight on Eickhoff's mechanics. When he was a in a rut in May and June, he was consistently falling off the mound to his left side and his pitches to right-handed hitters were sailing high-and-away. 

Eickhoff has faced the Marlins five times and is 2-3 with a 3.30 ERA. He's struck out 27 and walked just four in 30 innings. At Marlins Park, he's 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA.

Current Fish have hit .307 off Eickhoff with 10 extra-base hits in just over 90 plate appearances. Marcell Ozuna is 3 for 10 with two doubles and a homer. Christian Yelich is 4 for 11 with a double and a homer. Justin Bour is 3 for 6 with a homer. Giancarlo Stanton is 1 for 6 with three strikeouts.

2. Deep Miami lineup
The Marlins have one of the deeper lineups in the National League, which must have manager Don Mattingly frustrated to be 10 games out of the wild-card race.

Stanton has hit .272 with a 26 homers, 59 RBIs and a .918 OPS. Most importantly, he's stayed healthy and played in 89 of 90 games.

Ozuna, an All-Star, has hit .317 with 23 homers, 70 RBIs and a .938 OPS.

Yelich is seeing the ball well and is now up to .288 with a .364 on-base percentage.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto is hitting .290.

Dee Gordon is hitting .290 with 32 steals.

And Bour's first half may have been the most impressive of all — the first baseman is hitting .287 with 20 homers and 61 RBIs. After barely facing left-handed pitchers in 2015 and 2016, Bour has hit .323 with six homers and a 1.045 OPS off of them this season.

3. Altherr to DL
Aaron Altherr was placed on the 10-day disabled list retroactive to July 15. He strained his right hamstring on a double Friday night in Milwaukee.

Cesar Hernandez, who played four games with High-A Clearwater during his rehab assignment, was activated Monday to take Altherr's spot on the 25-man roster.

Hernandez (oblique) went 1 for 1 with six walks in Sunday's 13-4 Threshers win.

The Phillies are also expecting right-hander Vince Velasquez (elbow) to return from the DL Tuesday.

The Phils missed Hernandez's consistency atop the lineup. He's hit .289 with a .361 on-base percentage since the start of 2016.

4. The Phils' incredibly mediocre nemesis
The Phillies face 31-year-old right-hander Tom Koehler tonight for the first time this season and 17th time since 2012.

In those previous 16 games (14 starts), Koehler is 4-4 with a 3.43 ERA.

Against every other team in his career, Koehler has a 4.51 ERA. 

This season, Koehler is 1-4 with an 8.00 ERA, 1.73 WHIP and .300 opponents' batting average. He's also allowed 12 home runs in just 45 innings. He's been arguably the worst starting pitcher in baseball this season.

And yet, much of that means nothing because the Phillies have let so many struggling pitchers off the hook in 2017. 

Current Phillies have just one home run off Koehler in more than 130 plate appearances. It belongs to Freddy Galvis. 

5. This and that
• Odubel Herrera continues to frustrate on the basepaths, but he's gradually getting his numbers back to a more respectable place. After doubling twice Sunday, he's hitting .320 with a .897 OPS since the beginning of June. He has 17 doubles, a triple and five home runs in those 37 games.

• The Phillies are 2-3 against the Marlins this season and 15-18 vs. the NL East. They actually don't have the worst divisional record in the NL East — the Braves do at 18-22.

• Perhaps the most impressive sign early in Nick Williams' big-league career is his use of the whole field. Of his 30 balls in play, 24 have been up the middle or to the opposite field. He's 0 for 6 when pulling the ball, 9 for 18 with two doubles and a homer going up the middle, and 3 for 6 with a homer when going the other way.

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

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Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

PHOENIX -- J.D. Martinez lined a two-out RBI single to deep left field with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins 3-2 on Sunday to clinch the top wild card in the National League.

The Diamondbacks, who won only 69 games a year ago but are 90-66 this season, were assured a playoff berth in the fourth inning after St. Louis and Milwaukee lost. The comeback victory ensured Arizona will host the NL wild-card game Oct. 4.

Fernando Rodney (5-4) pitched a perfect inning for the win.

A throwing error by Justin Nicolino (2-3) on Kristopher Negron's sacrifice bunt helped load the bases with no outs in the ninth (see full recap).

Cubs close in on NL Central title behind Quintana's 3-hit shoutout
MILWAUKEE -- Jose Quintana pitched a three-hitter for his second big league shutout, and the Chicago Cubs beat Milwaukee 5-0 Sunday to close in on a second straight NL Central title and damage the Brewers' playoff hopes.

Coming off its first World Series title since 1908, Chicago (87-68) won three of four in the weekend series and opened a 5-game lead over the second-place Brewers (82-73) with seven games remaining. Milwaukee began the day one game behind Colorado for the NL's second wild card.

Quintana (7-3 with Cubs, 11-11 overall) struck out 10 and walked one in his second complete game in 182 starts. He threw 116 pitches, his most since Sept. 7 last year.

He did not allow any extra-base hits and retired his final 11 batters after walking Domingo Santana in the sixth (see full recap).

Rockies beat Padres to open 2-game lead for last wild card
SAN DIEGO -- Gerardo Parra hit a tiebreaking single in a two-run third inning, Pat Valaika and Charlie Blackmon hit consecutive home runs in the ninth and the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres 8-4 Sunday to open a two-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card heading into the final week of the regular season.

St. Louis trails the Rockies by 2 games. Seeking its first postseason appearance since 2009, Colorado opens a six-game homestand Monday, playing Miami and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. At 41-40, the Rockies tied their record for road wins, set in 2009.

German Marquez (11-7) allowed two runs, five hits and three walks in five innings. He had been 0-2 in six starts since beating Milwaukee on Aug. 18. Colorado starters have a 2.52 ERA in their last nine games (see full recap).

Twins top Tigers for 4-game sweep, close on wild card
DETROIT -- Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar homered, and Minnesota beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4 on Sunday to complete a four-game sweep that moved the Twins closer to securing a wild-card berth in the playoffs.

Polanco hit a solo homer in the first off Buck Farmer (4-5), and Escobar welcomed Victor Alcantara with a three-run drive in the sixth.

Minnesota (82-74) began the day 4 games ahead of Kansas City, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card. The Twins outscored the Tigers 39-12 in the sweep.

Detroit has lost seven straight and 14 of 16. At 62-94, the Tigers will finish with their worst record since going 43-119 in 2003 (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

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ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."