Phillies-Reds 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's quest for 200 begins

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's quest for 200 begins

Phillies (1-0) at Reds (0-1)
7:10 p.m. on CSN and streaming live on and the NBC Sports app.

A powerful first inning, seven extra-base hits and strong pitching for eight innings led the Phillies to an opening day win over the Reds.

The weather cooperated to allow the Phils to get their first game in Monday. After a built-in off day Tuesday, the series resumes tonight at Great American Ball Park:

1. Contributions aplenty
There was no shortage of positive signs on opening day. 

Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis homered. 

Odubel Herrera reached base three times.

Maikel Franco saw 20 pitches in five plate appearances.

Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders quickly made their presence felt, combining to go 4 for 8 with two doubles.

The 2017 Phillies' lineup is unquestionably better and deeper than it was in 2016 and it's not just because of the additions of Kendrick and Saunders. They'll also have a full season from a now-established Tommy Joseph, expected growth from Franco and Herrera in Year 3, and Hernandez is definitely trending up.

Hernandez didn't walk on opening day, but he saw 24 pitches in five trips to the plate.

2. Still Gomez's job?
Jeanmar Gomez had a shaky first appearance, allowing a two-run, opposite-field homer to Scooter Gennett. He was still able to notch the save, but Gomez didn't look nearly as dominant as the three relievers that preceded him.

Joaquin Benoit threw gas in the sixth inning and struck out two. Edubray Ramos had a clean seventh. 

And Hector Neris ... wow. He entered in the eighth inning and the Reds had absolutely no chance. Neris threw 11 pitches, eight of them strikes to retire Joey Votto, Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez. Votto struck out swinging and was late doing it.

Pete Mackanin said after the game that he is concerned about Gomez (see story), who allowed 17 earned runs in eight innings last September.

With Neris and Benoit, the Phillies have two ready-made replacements if Gomez falters.

3. Eickhoff's quest for 200 begins
Jerad Eickhoff was as steady as it gets last season for the Phillies, going 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA in 33 starts and falling just shy of 200 innings (197 1/3) last season.

Eickhoff showed excellent control throughout the season, walking just 1.9 batters per nine innings while striking out 7.6. And that 3.65 ERA was a bit deceiving -- aside from his eight-run outing at Coors Field, Eickhoff had a 3.38 ERA in 32 starts. 

Eickhoff allowed two runs or less in 17 of his 33 starts last season and allowed three or less 25 times. He kept a weak Phillies offense in so many games and figures to do so again this season. If he does, he'll finish with more than 11 wins behind an improved offense and bullpen.

Eickhoff has never faced the Reds, and only Gennett, the former Brewer, has faced him. He's 2 for 6 with a homer.

Eickhoff's battery mate Wednesday will be Cameron Rupp, who he continues to build chemistry with (see story).

4. Facing the lefty Finnegan
Left-hander Brandon Finnegan starts the second game of the season for the Reds for the second straight year. He went 10-11 with a 3.98 ERA last season, striking out 145 but walking 84 in 172 innings. For reference, Eickhoff and Jeremy Hellickson combined to walk 87 batters last season in 386 1/3 innings.

That's an obscenely high walk total for Finnegan, and the Phillies' game plan should be to make him work. 

It's rare you see a pitcher walk so many hitters and not pay the price, but Finnegan was at his best last season with men on base, limiting opponents to a .205 batting average with the bases occupied and a .175 mark with two outs and runners in scoring position.

Finnegan faced the Phillies twice last season. He allowed two runs on three hits over six innings with nine strikeouts on April 6, then lasted only four innings and allowed three runs on four hits and five walks on May 13.

Finnegan walked at least four batters in 10 different starts last year.

Active Phillies are 6 for 25 (.240) against him with six walks, including two apiece from Kendrick and Herrera.

The 5-foot-11 Finnegan throws a sinker, four-seam fastball, slider and changeup. The sinker and four-seamer average about 93 mph. 

Right-handed hitters really struggled last season against his changeup (.138 BA, 1 HR in 93 PAs ending with a changeup) and slider (.216 BA).

5. This and that
• Lefties hit just .218 last season off Finnegan, but that doesn't necessarily mean Saunders will sit for Aaron Altherr. The left-handed hitting Saunders has actually been better against lefties the last three seasons (.277 BA, .850 OPS) than he has against righties (.250, .778).

(Update: Altherr is starting in right field, which makes sense given the fact that the next 12 starting pitchers the Phillies are scheduled to face are all right-handed.)

• That 5-6-7-8 the Reds have of Suarez, Scott Schebler, Zack Cozart and Tucker Barnhart ... woof.

• Versatile right-handed reliever Raisel Iglesias didn't have great control on Monday, but the Phillies saw a glimpse of how good his stuff is. Iglesias is by far the best pitcher on the Reds' staff, and late last season Cincy used him similarly to how the Indians used Andrew Miller, pitching him multiple innings and using him in all sorts of situations.

• The Reds on Wednesday claimed outfielder Tyler Goeddel off waivers from the Phillies. Goeddel spent all of last season on the Phils' 25-man roster after being selected with the first pick in the Rule 5 draft. The Phillies were forced to remove him from their 40-man roster last week in order to create a spot for Brock Stassi.

• As of early Wednesday afternoon, there was a 50 percent chance of rain in Cincinnati at game time.

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Nola is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday, but that's not going to happen.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Saturday indicated that the pitcher's recovery from a lower back strain was not going as smoothly as hoped.

Did Nola experience a setback?

"If you want to call it that," Mackanin said.

Nola threw a bullpen session on Friday and, according to Mackanin, did not bounce back as well as hoped.

"After he completed it, he had some symptoms, some soreness or tightness, I guess," Mackanin said. "It was decided he will not make his start on Monday. He will be reevaluated to determine his next bullpen.

"A couple of days ago he said he felt great and then [Friday] not so great. He's improving but he's not 100 percent. There's something bugging him. We're just going to take it day to day. We're being cautious with him this early in the season."

Nola experienced soreness in his lower back after his last start, April 20 against the Mets. The Phils have been filling the opening on their pitching staff with reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Nick Pivetta will be activated on Sunday and make his major-league debut with a start against the Dodgers.

Kendrick works at first base
First baseman Tommy Joseph and catcher Cameron Rupp, both hitting under .200, were not in the starting lineup on Saturday night as Mackanin went heavy on lefty hitters against Dodgers' righty Brandon McCarthy.

Mackanin stressed that he doesn't like to make judgments on hitters until they get around the 100 at-bat mark — Joseph has 63; Rupp 50 — but it's worth noting that first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher Jorge Alfaro are both off to hot starts at Triple A and could be eventual replacements if the club looks for more production.

There also could be another option brewing at first base.

Howie Kendrick has worked at first base during batting practice the last two days. On Friday, he merely tracked balls off the bat and worked on first-step breaks. He did so with a regular fielder's glove.

But on Saturday, Kendrick brought his first baseman's mitt to the field. He took some groundballs and throws from across the diamond.

This stuff doesn't happen just by accident.

Over an 11-season career, Kendrick has played in 89 games at first base. He opened the season as the Phillies' leftfielder and hit .333 (13 for 39) with an .883 OPS before suffering an oblique injury two weeks ago in Washington. Kendrick probably needs at least another week of recovery time before coming off the disabled list, but it's now reasonable to wonder if he will go back to left field or get time at first base when he returns. Using Kendrick at first would allow the Phillies to keep Aaron Altherr's bat in the lineup in left field.

Joseph can have a say in all this if he gets his bat going. He is hitting .190 (12 for 63) with just a .505 OPS.

Last May, it was Joseph who earned his way to the majors after his hot start in Triple A coincided with Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf struggling in the majors. Joseph got 347 plate appearances in the majors last season and hit .257 with 21 homers, 47 RBIs and a .813 OPS.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both struggling mightily through the first month of the season, will get Saturday night off when the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Joseph is hitting .190 with one homer and 18 strikeouts in 18 games, while Rupp is batting .180 with one homer and 20 strikeouts through 15 games. Last season, Joseph had 21 home runs and Rupp 16.

Brock Stassi will spell Joseph at first base and bat seventh. Andrew Knapp takes over for Rupp behind the plate and will bat eighth.

Daniel Nava also receives a start, playing left field. The first-year Phillie is hitting .346 with a pair of homers and as many walks as strikeouts (seven).

Zach Eflin takes the mound in a meaningful start for the right-hander (see story). He opposes resurgent Dodgers righty Brandon McCarthy (see game notes).

Here are tonight's lineups:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Cody Bellinger, LF
7. Chase Utley, 2B
8. Chris Taylor, 3B
9. Brandon McCarthy, P