Ty Blach

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast struggles

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff's turn to face West Coast struggles

Phillies (43-77) at Giants (50-74)
9:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies dropped their sixth straight game Friday night and fell to 0-5 on their West Coast road trip. The last-place Giants raced out to a quick lead against Zach Eflin and beat the Phils handily, 10-2.

Jerad Eickhoff, who left with the Phillies leading Monday, looks to continue his recent success against Ty Blach and the Giants in a Saturday night affair.

Here are five things to know for the game.

1. Eickhoff quietly improving
You wouldn't know it just looking at his 4.33 ERA, but Eickhoff has put together a strong stretch in recent weeks.

In his last five starts, which dates back to July 23, he's thrown 28 2/3 innings with allowing just nine earned runs, good for a 2.83 ERA. In that span, he's notched three quality starts and has 25 strikeouts. While he's limited opponents to just one home run, he's still walked 12. He's lowered his ERA by half a run in this time.

You certainly have to factor in the level of competition. Beyond a struggling yet potent Milwaukee offense, he pitched against Atlanta twice, a weak Angels lineup (which does feature Mike Trout) and the lackluster Padres. The Giants aren't much better, so it's not hard to see him extending his recent success. 

Eickhoff's mini-roll has been easy to overlook with Aaron Nola's dominant summer and Eickhoff being a 27-year-old on a team looking toward even younger players. But you can't forget that he was their best starter last season and should be able to hit at least 150 innings, a year after throwing 197 1/3. 

He's no ace, but that's not what he's asked to be. He's an average to slightly above-average starter and there's plenty of value in that. And if you're comparing him to last season, his Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is actually better in 2017 than 2016, indicating he's been a little unlucky this year.

Eickhoff started against Blach in June and put together his worst start of the season, giving up 11 baserunners and five runs while recording just eight outs. He didn't give up any home runs, but he walked five batters and struck out just two. 

Denard Span went 3 for 3 vs. Eickhoff while Eduardo Nunez, who's since been traded, was 2 for 2 with a walk. Blach even walked twice in two plate appearances.

2. Back with Blach
While Eickhoff had his worst start of the year against Blach and the Giants, Blach had one of the best, if not the best, starts of his young career (the other option being eight innings of shutout ball vs. the Dodgers down the stretch last season). 

He threw a seven-hit shutout. He struck out four, walked none and needed 112 pitches to dispatch the Phillies in just five batters more than the minimum. He was the first of three pitchers (Carlos Martinez, Clayton Richard) to throw shutouts against the Phillies this season.

And the soft-tossing lefty started out the season in the bullpen. He made four appearances (two starts) down the stretch in 2016 and was filling a minor role in the Giants' bullpen this April. However, he was given a full-time spot in the rotation once Madison Bumgarner injured his shoulder, and he hasn't looked back.

He leads all rookies with 134 innings pitched. He's 14th out of 34 rookie starters in ERA (4.37) but he's fourth in wins above replacement (WAR), likely because of his durability and his innings total as much as his effectiveness.

Outside of his gem at Citizens Bank Park, he's been quite hittable on the road. Home is where he's been at his best with a 3.60 ERA compared to a 5.50 mark away from AT&T Park. That's because he doesn't strike many batters out, walks only a few, and really relies on his fielders. Therefore, he's a great beneficiary of playing at one of the most extreme pitcher's parks in baseball, where a fly-ball pitcher like Blach can truly excel. 

The 26-year-old southpaw works off a 90-mph fastball and 80-mph changeup, working in a 12-6 curve and occasional slider.

Cesar Hernandez and Cameron Rupp each picked up two hits against Blach in June, while Maikel Franco had one as well (Howie Kendrick had the other two).

3. Don't go west, young men
When the Phillies have traveled to the opposite coast this season, their destiny has manifested itself in plenty of misfortune and poor play. 

After the 10-2 loss Friday night, they are now 4-16 west of Texas, suffering sweeps at the hands of the Dodgers, Angels and Padres. They also went 2-5 combined against the Rockies and Diamondbacks, salvaging a two-game sweep against the Mariners in their western escapades. 

A lot of it's easy to parse out: Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Rockies are all playoff teams. Angels are currently tied for the second wild card in the American League. 

But the showing this week has been especially painful. The Phils took two of three from the Giants in June, one of their rare series wins, and the Padres are a team that isn't designed to compete in 2017. These aren't just the worst teams in the NL West, they're two of the worst in baseball and the Phillies are cementing themselves in the cellar of the National League with this poor trip out west.

In San Diego and San Francisco, they've been outscored, 33-14, by the teams that are 28th and 30th, respectively, in OPS. 

Luckily for the Phils, they've got no more West Coast trips left after this weekend and only 14 of their last 40 games are on the road. That's plenty of games at CBP, where they are a much more respectable 24-31 (compared to 19-46 on the road).

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Rhys Hoskins is just 2 for 12 with three walks against left-handed pitchers, but both hits are home runs. 

Giants: After going 2 for 4 Friday night with a double and home run, Hunter Pence has a six-game hitting streak going. He has six multi-hit games this month and is batting .351 in August.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have faced 19 teams this year and have a winning record against only one of them (Atlanta).

• Checking in with some recent former Phillies: Jeremy Hellickson allowed five home runs to the Angels on Friday night, including one to New Jersey's own Trout.

• Now with the Nationals, Kendrick has hit even better than he did with the Phillies. Going into Friday's action, he had a .353/.400/.667 batting line with four home runs.

• Pat Neshek has struck out seven batters in 6 1/3 innings, but he's allowed five runs (three earned). He's given up 10 hits, though he's yet to walk a batter.

• Lastly, Joaquin Benoit has had a rough go of it in Pittsburgh. He has an 11.81 ERA, giving up nine runs (seven earned) in just 5 1/3 innings. The 40-year-old reliever has as many hit-by-pitches as strikeouts with the Pirates.

So much for flipping the calendar: Phillies lose by 10 to NL's worst offense

So much for flipping the calendar: Phillies lose by 10 to NL's worst offense

BOX SCORE

The Giants arrived in Philadelphia this weekend with the fewest runs scored in the National League, the fewest home runs, the lowest on-base percentage and the lowest slugging percentage.

So, naturally, they won 10-0 on Friday and reached base 27 times (see Instant Replay).

They entered the weekend with the worst production in the National League from the first and second spots in the batting order — a .217 batting average and .290 OBP.

So, naturally, leadoff man Denard Span and two-hole hitter Eduardo Nunez combined to reach base 9 of 12 times.

That's what every team, whether it's contending or slumping, is doing to the Phillies right now. Every team that draws the Phils is using them to get right.

So much for that artificial turning-of-the-page from May to June. So much for yet another players-only meeting.

"I'm at a loss for words. Bad way to start the month," manager Pete Mackanin said. 

"Everybody was refreshed after the day off yesterday, starting a new month and putting everything behind us. It just was a terrible night all the way around. We walked 10 batters. Unacceptable."

Three of those walks were of the opposing pitcher, Ty Blach, who became the first pitcher to walk three times in a game since Aaron Cook in 2009. He also became the first pitcher to bat six times in a game since Ryan Jensen in 2002, which tells you a little bit about how dominant the Giants' bats were Friday and how little resistance the Phillies offered.

Blach allowed seven hits in the shutout, all singles. He got 19 of his 27 outs on the ground. The Phillies made quick out after quick out after quick out.

But with wins and losses again not mattering much for a team in this city, the more worrisome signs came from Jerad Eickhoff, who just has not been the same pitcher this season. He walked a career-high five batters in 2 2/3 innings and fell to 0-6 with a 5.13 ERA.

For much of the season, Eickhoff's fastball command hasn't been there. And no matter how many knees buckle against his 12-6 curveball, he can't get away with being a one-pitch pitcher. 

Mackanin thinks that Eickhoff's struggles have been the result of his losing some command of even the curveball, his bread and butter.

"I think not having good command of his curveball has really flustered him," Mackanin said. "He hasn't been able to go to that pitch with the confidence that he has in the past and I think that's affected him a little bit. When you don't have your out-pitch, when you don't have good command of it, it's kind of tough to know where to go because that thing has bailed him out so many times."

Eickhoff disagreed, saying the curveball felt good and that it just came down again to a lack of fastball command.

"This is a game I was [headed] into thinking I could turn this thing around," Eickhoff said. "Just couldn't control my fastball. This was a very uncharacteristic game for me and that was what was frustrating."

For the Phillies, this kind of game has become characteristic: early runs scored off their starting pitcher, a quick exit, an insurmountable lead, a lifeless offense, a lifeless crowd, a sober Mackanin in the media room.

"I've never seen a team where a number of players — both pitchers and hitters — are in prolonged slumps," Mackanin said.

"I was talking to a couple of [the Giants'] coaches and they said, 'Boy, we haven't been swinging the bats very well.' Well, they did tonight. That's what we need, a game like tonight. We need a series like the Marlins had against us."

Indeed they do. Unfortunately, the Phillies won't get a chance to play the Phillies.