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.

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks


PHOENIX -- The clubhouse was beginning to clear and still the star of the game had not yet emerged from the shower.

"He's in there cleaning the guacamole and mayo out of his hair," Cameron Rupp said with a laugh.

Eventually Mark Leiter Jr. made it out of the shower and over to his locker where equipment man Phil Sheridan presented him with three game balls, souvenirs from not only his first big-league start but his first big-league win, as well.

"It's something I'll never forget," the 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, N.J., said pitching six shutout innings to backbone the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

"I’ll be honest, I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut. To go out there and contribute to a win is what I was hoping to do."

Leiter, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2013, had never made it onto the 40-man roster until the Phils needed a reliever in mid-April and gave him a shot after he'd gotten off to a good start at Triple A. He spent six weeks in the majors and made 12 relief appearances before being sent back to Triple A the first weekend of June.

Leiter worked as a starter during his time back at Triple A. He pitched six shutout innings against Syracuse in his last start and got the call to come back up when Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with a back strain earlier this week.

Leiter's return assignment was not easy: The Diamondbacks are one of the best hitting clubs in the majors and the best on their home turf. They entered the game scoring 6.48 runs per game at home and with an .886 OPS, both major-league bests.

None of that fazed Leiter.

"In my opinion, this is the big leagues and it doesn’t matter who the lineup is," he said. "They all have the ability to hit and hit well. They’re all big-leaguers and they've earned their right to be big-leaguers. I was just trying to pitch to the team you're facing that day."

Leiter trusted his low-90s fastball and commanded it well. He mixed in his secondary stuff and kept the D-backs off-balance with his splitter. He scattered three hits, walked one and struck out five. He showed no fear.

"Great performance," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He made it look easy. He made a lot of good hitters look bad with his split. For him to come up and do that to a real good hitting team was outstanding."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998. He made the trip in from New Jersey to watch his son's first big-league start.

"I guess they found him on TV," Leiter said. "That's what they were telling me. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased they found him because he was probably stressed out. But I think it was probably worth him coming out here. He's probably happy."

How could he not be?

Leiter's teammates were definitely happy.

They treated Leiter to a raucous postgame dousing that included as many different condiments as could be found in the clubhouse dining room. One laughing player had a bottle of ketchup in his hands. Another had a squeeze bottle of honey.

And then there was the guacamole and mayo that Rupp mentioned.

"In his first major-league start, to come up here and do that in what is known as a good hitters’ park - that proves Mark is pretty strong between the ears," Tommy Joseph said. "He's been one of those under-the-radar guys that people have doubted, but his mentality and ability to prepare are second to none."

Joseph played a big role in the win, smacking a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Phillies some breathing room. Maikel Franco also had a big home run and Freddy Galvis contributed an important triple that led to a Phillies' run in the first inning.

The Phils still have the worst record in the majors at 24-48, but they've won two in a row, both on the back of good starting pitching performances. Aaron Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Thursday.

And Leiter delivered on Friday.

"It's good to see those back-to-back," Mackanin said.