CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Phillies have had their starting pitching rotation lined up for weeks, so it was no surprise to the men in that rotation when manager Pete Mackanin announced Sunday that Jeremy Hellickson would get the ball on opening day in Cincinnati in two weeks (see story).
Jerad Eickhoff was the runner-up for the opening day nod and will start the second game of the regular season.
On Sunday, he looked like a guy who is ready.
The wide-shouldered right-hander struck out nine and walked none in six innings of two-run ball against the Tampa Bay Rays.
"He was outstanding," Mackanin said. "He struck out the 3-4 hitters six times, which is huge. The other thing that was really impressive, he's been working on a changeup and he threw a lot of them today. He changed speeds really well."
Eickhoff, 26, came to the Phillies in the July 2015 trade that sent Cole Hamels to Texas. In terms of upside, Eickhoff was widely considered the fourth-rated prospect in the deal behind pitcher Jake Thompson, catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Nick Williams.
So far, Eickhoff has been the top producer on the Phillies' end of the deal. He led the staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) last season.
"I always knew what I could do," he said. "I was just kind of thrown in [the Hamels deal]. People say that. But I knew what I could do. I knew my mentality and how I go about my business so I had confidence in that. To be given the opportunity and to be able to succeed as I have thus far, I've been very fortunate with that, very blessed to have that. It's a continuing process and I'm always looking to get better."
Perhaps the best testament to Eickhoff's emergence as a stalwart on the Phillies' staff came from Hellickson, who on Sunday said Eickhoff deserved the opening day start more than he did.
"I think a lot of Jeremy and he's done so much in this game, so for him to say that that's very cool to hear," Eickhoff said. "He deserves it as much as anybody. It's fun to watch him go about his business and go through a lineup like he does. It's a tremendous honor for him for sure."
Eickhoff has pitched his way into being a foundation piece in the Phillies' rebuild.
His chance will come.
"Yeah, one day," he said. "I hope so. But I'll be looking forward to seeing Jeremy out there on opening day."
Eickhoff got no offensive support and the Phillies lost 8-0. The Phils had just three regular players in the starting lineup and did not have a baserunner until Tommy Joseph came off the bench and smacked a one-out double in the eighth.
The Phils finished with just two hits.
"Nobody wants to be on the losing end of a no-hitter," Joseph said. "So I guess it’s nice to not get no-hit. But it still doesn't feel too hot to get the loss either."
Joseph had not played in four days after being hit in the left hand by a pitch.
"Thankfully, Tommy Joseph came through," Mackanin said. "Other than that, no offense to talk about.
"We're not this bad. We're going to improve offensively."
The Phillies have an off day Monday. They travel to Fort Myers to play the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday.