Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff searches for 1st win

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff searches for 1st win

Phillies (4-7) vs. Nationals (6-5)
1:35 p.m. on CSN and streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app.

The Phillies broke a four-game losing skid after Cesar Hernandez's two-run homer propelled them to a victory Saturday afternoon. With the weekend series tied 1-1, Jerad Eickhoff will go toe to toe with Gio Gonzalez on Sunday as the Phils look to take their second straight series from the Nats.

Here are five things to know for the series finale.

1. Eickhoff searches for 1st win
Despite two quality starts to begin the season, Eickhoff is still without a win in 2017.

It follows a similar trend to last season. While Eickhoff was the team's most consistent and reliable starter in 2016, he had two one-month stretches where he wasn't able to pick up a win. Two games into this season, he has a sterling 1.98 ERA, but the Phillies have lost both his starts. He's even gone fairly deep into games (13 2/3 innings overall) and has struck out 13 batters. His five walks, including four vs. the Mets last time out, are a little off for the righty. But he's still only allowed eight hits this year. 

The 26-year-old righty has allowed a home run in both starts this season, yet he still hasn't given up more than three earned runs in a start since Aug. 18 last season. He faced the Nationals twice in 2016. Fitting with the trend, he produced quality starts in both games, but the Phillies lost each time. In two career starts at Nationals Park, he's gone 13 innings, struck out 15 batters and the Nats have scored just two runs. 

As a team, the Nationals haven't hit Eickhoff well. Adam Eaton and Jayson Werth have each hit homes runs off him, but the team as a whole has a .216/.259/.392 batting line. Star right fielder Bryce Harper is 1 for 9 vs. Eickhoff with six strikeouts.

2. Gonzalez dealing to start 2017
Last season was the worst full season of Gonzalez's career. The veteran lefty threw 177 1/3 innings and had a rotten 4.57 ERA. His ERA has gotten worse every season since his career-best in 2012. At age 26 that year, he tossed 199 1/3 innings with a 2.89 ERA and led the National League with 21 wins and a 9.3 strikeout per nine rate. Now he's 31 years old and firmly further down in the Nats' rotation.

But he's off to a fantastic start this season. He has 13 strikeouts in 13 innings and has a sterling 0.69 ERA. Talk about production. Gonzalez has still allowed plenty of hits (13) but just two walks. He beat the Cardinals while allowing two runs, one earned, over seven innings last time out. He's always walked a lot of guys, so seven innings with no walks is a big deal for the veteran lefty.

While Gonzalez won't keep up a 0.69 ERA for long, he tends to hold Phillies in check. Freddy Galvis has good numbers (two home runs, two doubles, nine hits in 35 ABs) off Gonzalez, but the roster as a whole has a paltry .204/.263/.296 line against him. This is one of the times the Phillies miss Darin Ruf. Ruf was 11 for 31 with three home runs, three doubles and eight walks off Gonzalez, tormenting him while in a Phillies uniform.

Last year, Gonzalez was 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA in four starts vs. the Phils and allowed just four earned runs in 26 1/3 innings. For his career, he's 10-6 with a 2.67 ERA over 20 starts vs. the Phillies. 

3. Bullpen diaries 
If you look at the overall numbers, the Phillies' bullpen has had a horrid start to this season. In 39 innings, the team has a 5.31 ERA, firmly in the bottom third of the league.

However, when you add context, the Phillies' pen seems a lot more reliable. First off, Adam Morgan -- who gave up seven runs and six homers in just six innings -- is back down in Triple A. Beyond Morgan, Jeanmar Gomez has had the worst performance of any Phillie this year with seven earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. While he's still on the team, he is unlikely to see much more high-leverage situations for a while after being removed from the closer role. 

So when you take those two players out, the bullpen has a 2.93 ERA. You can reduce it even further if you take out Joely Rodriguez' performance (same innings and runs as Gomez). This is all to say, the new back-end of the bullpen has the potential to be a force. No one is mistaking this Phillies bullpen for one with a mountain of depth. However, it still has three pitchers capable of performing in high-leverage situations.

The trio of Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek have combined for 16 scoreless innings. The Phillies have had plenty of trouble getting it to the back of their bullpen with barely five innings per start from the rotation, yet it has to comfort Pete Mackanin to know he has reliable people ready to go. Last year, the Phillies' back-end of the 'pen was basically just Neris and Gomez and that fell apart when Gomez struggled in September.

After Joe Blanton gave up a two-run homer Saturday, the Nationals have a 6.29 bullpen ERA and only one reliever (Matt Albers) has had a scoreless April.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Despite strong games this week, Maikel Franco is still in a slump to start the season. His batting line after Saturday is just .195/.261/.366. 

Nationals: With both Trea Turner and Stephen Drew on the disabled list, the Nationals have had to turn to Wilmer Difo. The second-year middle infielder is solid in the field but has struggled to produce at the plate this morning.

5. This and that
• With just two errors this season, the Phillies are tied for second fewest fielding miscues in baseball. Only the Royals with just one have been more efficient. The Nationals (nine) are tied for third most in baseball.

• Before Saturday's game, the Phillies had the third highest strikeout rate in all of baseball. The team had 92 strikeouts and had K'd in 24.5 percent of its plate appearances.

• The Nationals lead all of baseball with 26 doubles this year. Their only one on Saturday came from their starting pitcher, Tanner Roark.

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

Lifeless Phillies should call up red-hot Roman Quinn ... why not?

The Phillies are a lifeless team right now.

For a while the starting pitching was the biggest issue, then it was the bullpen, now it's the offense. The Phils have hit .224 since May 12, which was when their 2-7 road trip began. 

Their .268 on-base percentage over that span is worst in the majors and their .613 OPS is better than only the Mariners.

Players up and down the lineup are slumping. Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP since the ninth game of the season. Michael Saunders hasn't given them much at any point. Maikel Franco had an eight-game hit streak snapped Monday, but even still is hitting .221 with a .281 on-base percentage. 

At this point, why not bring up Roman Quinn and play him every day? It makes too much sense right now.

Daniel Nava went on the 10-day DL Monday with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. It doesn't seem to be a serious injury, but why not use the open space as an excuse to bring Quinn up for at least a few days and see what he's got?

Quinn could infuse some energy and life to the top of a sputtering lineup. Bat him second, play him in the corner outfield and see what happens. At the very least, he'd be a defensive upgrade over Saunders. At the most, Quinn's hunger to stick in the majors could result in a hot streak that sparks the top of the order the way Herrera does when he's hot.

Quinn is hitting lately at Triple A, batting .333 with a .424 OBP over his last 15 games. He showed last September that he can be an offensive catalyst with his ability to beat out infield singles, bunt for hits and spray the ball. Yes, he strikes out too much for a leadoff-type hitter, but it's just hard to see the downside of a call-up right now.

The argument against bringing Quinn up now is that it's too early to sour on Saunders, a player the Phillies signed in hopes of trading at some point. But think about how much Saunders would have to do to have worthwhile trade value. Yeah, you could flip him somewhere for a negligible return or some salary relief, but he'd have to be extremely productive for at least a month to get a team interested in trading a minor-leaguer of any value for him.

Pete Mackanin has tried many things to spark the Phils' lineup, moving Herrera and Franco down, sitting guys, challenging guys. The best solution, perhaps the only solution right now, might be a move made over his head to promote the Phils' speedy, switch-hitting outfielder who has a future with them so long as he stays on the field, which he has this season.

As for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro, who have also hit very well at Triple A, they just happen to play the same positions as Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, who have been the Phillies' most reliable bats the last few weeks.

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies-Rockies 5 things: Phils turn to Zach Eflin to stop the bleeding

Phillies (15-27) vs. Rockies (29-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies were supposed to take a step forward in 2017. Pete Mackanin went out on a limb when he said before the season that he thought they could be close to a .500 team, and so far they've fallen well short of that expectation.

At 15-27, the Phillies are on pace to go 58-104, an even worse record than 2015, the year of Aaron Harang, Jerome Williams, etc.

They hope to stop the profuse bleeding tonight against the Rockies, who can't lose on the road lately.

1. Franco and Saunders sit
Looking for some more offense, or just a different approach, Mackanin is sitting Maikel Franco and Michael Saunders tonight in favor of Andres Blanco and Ty Kelly (see lineup).

Franco has actually been hitting a bit more in May, picking up a hit in nine straight games before going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts Monday. Still, he's hitting just .221 with a .281 on-base percentage, and his .657 OPS is 27 percent below the league average.

Saunders just hasn't done much with the Phillies. He's hitting .227/.273/.383 with four homers and 15 RBIs, and he's struck out 35 times in 150 plate appearances. Two of those four homers came in games that were already decided.

It's a rare start for Blanco, just his fifth of the season. Coming mostly off the bench the last four seasons, he's been a consistent hitter for the Phillies, batting .270/.333/.449 with 43 doubles, four triples and 13 home runs in 559 plate appearances, essentially a full season's worth.

2. Eflin's turn
Mackanin's hope is that with Aaron Nola back from the DL, Jeremy Hellickson appearing to turn a corner and Zach Eflin giving the Phils some consistent innings, the starting rotation can get into a groove, thus helping out the bullpen and giving the Phillies a chance to win more close games the way they did in 2016.

Jerad Eickhoff was just OK last night, allowing four runs in six innings as he dropped to 0-5 with a 4.70 ERA. A quality start tonight from Eflin against a strong Rockies lineup would go a long way because the Phillies really need more than half of their rotation to be clicking right now.

Eflin was rocked his last start in Texas, allowing seven runs on 11 hits and two walks over four innings. It caused his ERA to rise from 2.81 to 4.25 and his WHIP from 1.00 to 1.25.

As is usually the case when Eflin doesn't pitch well, he just wasn't getting his sinker low enough in the zone. He had induced 40 groundballs over his previous three starts before picking up just eight against the Rangers. 

An interesting note on Eflin is that he's struck out just five of the 70 right-handed hitters he's faced compared to 13 of the 85 lefties he's seen. Righties have hit .323 off him with a .798 OPS compared to .250 with a .715 OPS from lefties.

Current Rockies are 3 for 16 off Eflin with just one extra-base hit. He faced Colorado last season at Coors Field and gave up just two runs over six innings.

3. An unlikely start
Unlike most seasons, the Rockies are pitching well and winning on the road. Colorado has gotten off to hot starts almost every year the last five, but it's usually fueled by an unsustainably hot offense. 

Hasn't been the case in 2017. The Rockies are middle of the pack with a 4.29 ERA, a half-run lower than the Phillies. And away from Coors Field, they have a 3.45 ERA, the second-lowest road ERA for any team behind the Diamondbacks.

The run has been credited to a young starting staff that has been missing projected No. 1 Jon Gray. We saw former first-round pick Jeff Hoffman dominate the Phillies last night (seven innings, three hits, one run, seven strikeouts) and tonight the Phils face 22-year-old German Marquez (2-2, 4.34).

One of the biggest difference-makers for the Rockies in 2017 has been closer Greg Holland, who signed a prove-it deal with Colorado coming off a major injury. He has 19 saves and a 0.96 ERA in 20 appearances and has earned himself a whole of money this winter.

4. The book on Marquez 
The Rockies acquired Marquez along with left-handed reliever Jake McGee in the January 2016 trade that sent Corey Dickerson to the Rays, where he's thrived.

Marquez made just a handful of appearances in the majors last season but has been solid for the Rockies in five starts so far this year. 

He throws pretty much all four-seam fastballs (65 percent) and curveballs (24 percent), with his heater averaging 95.1 mph. He'll also mix in a few changeups to lefties and cutters.

In two starts away from Coors Field, Marquez has allowed just one run in 11 innings with 11 strikeouts. He's kept the ball in the park in four of five starts.

5. This and that
• Good to see Aaron Altherr pick up two doubles last night. He was 6 for his previous 33.

• Tommy Joseph in May: .345/.418/.707, six doubles, five homers, 13 RBIs. 

• Since beginning the season on an eight-game hitting streak, Odubel Herrera has hit .207 with a .246 OBP, six walks and 35 strikeouts.

• Daniel Nava was placed on the 10-day DL with a hamstring strain suffered Friday in Pittsburgh. LHP Adam Morgan was recalled again from Triple A to take his place on the active roster.