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.

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge hits mammoth homer in Yankees' win over Mets

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge hits mammoth homer in Yankees' win over Mets

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge launched a titanic homer, Didi Gregorius snapped a seventh-inning tie with a two-run double and the New York Yankees beat the Mets 5-3 on Wednesday night for their third straight victory in the Subway Series.

After taking the first two matchups in the Bronx this week, the Yankees kept up their winning ways when the crosstown rivalry shifted to Queens. Judge enjoyed his first game at Citi Field, hitting a solo drive into the rarely reached third deck in left.

Mets left fielder Yoenis Cespedes never even budged as Judge's AL-leading 37th home run, projected at 457 feet, soared way over his head.

The rookie slugger also singled and scored on Chase Headley's sacrifice fly. But he struck out in the ninth inning to extend a dubious streak: Judge has fanned in 33 consecutive games, three shy of the record for a position player set by Adam Dunn from 2011-2012 (see full recap).

Alonso, Rzepczynski help seal Mariners’ victory
SEATTLE -- Recently acquired Yonder Alonso hit his first homer for Seattle and drove in three runs, and Marc Rzepczynski struck out Chris Davis with the bases loaded to end the Mariners' 7-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday.

Alonso, acquired in a trade with Oakland on Aug. 6, hit a two-run homer in the fourth inning, his 23rd of the season. He added an RBI single during a three-run fifth and also singled in the seventh.

Leonys Martin opened the sixth with his third home run to put Seattle up 7-4.

Seattle closer Edwin Diaz came on in the ninth and walked the first three hitters. Manny Machado followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 7-5, but Martin prevented an extra-base hit with a sensational diving catch in right field.

Diaz struck out Jonathan Schoop, but then hit both Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo to force in another run. Rzepczynski relieved and fanned Davis on three pitches for his first save.

Tony Zych (6-3) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in relief. Ubaldo Jimenez (5-8) allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Gordon’s single in 9th lifts Royals over A’s
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Alex Gordon hit a go-ahead RBI single in the top of the ninth after Oakland tied it in the bottom of the eighth, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Athletics 7-6 on Wednesday.

Alcides Escobar doubled to start the ninth against Blake Treinen (1-1), matching his season high with three hits. Then Gordon delivered his second run-scoring single of the series finale.

Oakland's Matt Chapman hit a tying two-run homer in the eighth against Brandon Maurer (1-1), who wound up the winner.

Lorenzo Cain hit a two-run homer in the fourth and Danny Duffy struck out eight over five innings but the Royals couldn't hold a late lead again before holding on -- a day after squandering a four-run advantage in a 10-8 defeat.

Cain added a key RBI single in the eighth for the Royals, who began the day tied with Minnesota six games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta takes his 'demotion' in stride after putting up big strikeout totals

Nick Pivetta takes his 'demotion' in stride after putting up big strikeout totals

SAN DIEGO — Odubel Herrera has missed the Phillies' last two games with a sore left hamstring and the team could sure use his bat.

Will he be available Thursday in San Francisco?

Herrera was asked about his condition as he hurried out of the clubhouse and off to the team bus after Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the San Diego Padres (see Instant Replay).

"Better," he said, indicating some improvement.

Could he play in the next day or so?

"Maybe," he said.

As a contingency, the Phillies will add a position player — Brock Stassi makes sense — to their roster for Thursday's game while they continue to evaluate Herrera. If Herrera can't go in a couple of days, he could end up on the disabled list. He injured the hamstring late in Monday night's game. He improved his hitting streak to 17 games earlier that night.

In order to add a player to the roster without placing Herrera on the DL, the Phillies had to clear a roster spot. They took the unusual step of sending Nick Pivetta to Triple A moments after he struck out a career-high 11 batters on Wednesday.

It appears to be simply a procedural move. The Phillies play a doubleheader Tuesday against Miami and will be allowed to add a 26th man that day. Ordinarily, a player sent to the minors could not return for 10 days unless he replaces an injured player. By rule, Pivetta could come back and be the 26th man on Tuesday. He then would have to return to Triple A to complete the 10-day stint in the minors. The bottom line is he might not even miss a turn in the major-league rotation.

"With Herrera on the blocks, not knowing where he's at, we need a position player," Mackanin said. "With the doubleheader coming up, we have the option of adding an extra pitcher on the 22nd. So that's the reasoning there."

Pivetta took the move in stride.

"It is what it is," the 24-year-old righty said. "I know about as much as you guys. I'm going to go down and work hard. It will be fine. I'm going to be back up eventually. So we'll just keep moving day by day there."

Pivetta struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced on Wednesday. When the ninth batter, rival pitcher Clayton Richard, came to the plate, he asked catcher Cameron Rupp a question.

"Did he strike everybody out?" Richard asked.

Richard struck out, but eventually got the upper hand. He pitched a three-hit shutout to finish off a San Diego sweep (see story).

"It looked to me like Pivetta was going to have a Kerry Wood performance today," Mackanin said. "Eight strikeouts in the first three innings. He ended up with 11. He threw a lot of good secondary stuff for strikes, which is one of the goals we're working on for him to do. He carried it for a while. He needs to understand how to continue to carry that through five, six, seven or even eight innings. 

"He's a young pitcher. It's his first year in the big leagues. He's going to get it. He's going to be good. He needs to learn how to sustain that through more than five or six innings. That's when you get to be a real solid starter."