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Phillies lose to Cardinals, 5-3, as Jerad Eickhoff gives up three home runs

Over his last four starts, Jerad Eickhoff has allowed 17 runs -- and 10 homers - in 18 1/3 innings. For now, though, his spot in the rotation isn't in jeopardy.

Over his last four starts, Jerad Eickhoff has allowed 10 homers - and 17 runs in 18 1/3 innings - and all of a sudden his spot in the rotation seems precarious.
Over his last four starts, Jerad Eickhoff has allowed 10 homers - and 17 runs in 18 1/3 innings - and all of a sudden his spot in the rotation seems precarious.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

When Jerad Eickhoff shut out the Cardinals for eight innings on May 8 in St. Louis -- the best start of his career and his third consecutive strong outing -- it felt like the start of something special for the Phillies' big right-hander.

Three weeks later, it wouldn’t have been crazy to wonder if he’s nearing an end of sorts.

But although Eickhoff gave up three home runs Thursday in a 5-3 loss to the Cardinals that stymied the Phillies’ chance for a three-game sweep at Citizens Bank Park and continued a rough four-start stretch in which he has allowed 10 homers, he received a vote of confidence from manager Gabe Kapler that signaled he isn’t in any danger of fumbling his spot in the starting rotation.

"We're building trust with Jerad. I, personally, am building trust with Jerad," Kapler said. "I think he's been punished for some mistakes that he's made. I don't think it's indicative of anything being all that different than it was early on."

Eickhoff got called up from triple-A Lehigh Valley in mid-April and gave up only five runs -- and no homers -- through his first 30 innings. Over his last four starts, though, he has allowed 17 runs on 25 hits, including all those homers, in 18⅓ innings.

The Phillies haven’t exactly had a long rope with struggling starters this season, a product of their long-awaited return to being all-in as a playoff contender. Eickhoff’s numbers over the last four starts (8.35 ERA, .763 opponent slugging percentage) aren’t much different from Nick Pivetta’s performance in four starts before the Phillies demoted him to triple A in April (8.35 ERA, .667 opponent slugging).

But the Phillies seem content to allow Eickhoff to work through his problems while taking his usual turn. Besides, they don’t have many options. Pivetta is back in the rotation, at least for another start, Sunday at Dodger Stadium; Vince Velasquez has been moved to the bullpen; and rookie lefty Cole Irvin is the first option to be recalled in the event of an injury.

If anything, the recent spate of homers is only further proof of something the Phillies already know about Eickhoff: His margin for error is slimmer than other harder-throwing pitchers.

With a fastball that barely cracks 90 mph, Eickhoff must be precise with his command. He also needs to trust in his signature curveball and emerging slider, the latter of which was hit for two of the Cardinals’ homers.

Neither Eickhoff nor Kapler was terribly bothered by the solo homers hit by Marcell Ozuna and Matt Wieters in the second inning. Eickhoff, in fact, thought both balls were going to be caught before they barely cleared the fence.

Jedd Gyorko’s two-run shot, which came after Eickhoff had muted the Cardinals for four innings and kept the deficit to only one run, was the more damaging blow.

"Got to make better pitches there to Gyorko," Eickhoff said. "That's kind of how it ended."

The Phillies scored two runs in the eighth inning on RBI singles by sizzling Bryce Harper (8-for-12, five doubles, one homer in the series against the Cardinals) and Rhys Hoskins. But the comeback bid fell short when Cardinals reliever John Gant retired Cesar Hernandez, Scott Kingery, and pinch-hitting J.T. Realmuto.

Kapler’s decision to allow Eickhoff to continue into the seventh inning against the lower half of the Cardinals order was a second guesser’s delight. But it was difficult to fault the manager. Eickhoff entered the inning having thrown only 82 pitches and cruised through the previous two innings, in particular.

And with a three-game series coming up against the mighty Dodgers, the Phillies are going to need fresh arms in a bullpen that has been ravaged by injuries to David Robertson, Tommy Hunter, Victor Arano, Pat Neshek, Edubray Ramos, and, most recently, lefty Adam Morgan.

“We’ve taken [Eickhoff] out of games early at times and said, ‘The reason we took you out is because you didn’t have your best stuff, command wasn’t great, curveball wasn’t all that sharp,’” Kapler said.

“Today, as I watched between innings, I thought it was just the opposite. I thought the curveball had bite. I thought he was locating fairly well. He was efficient going into that seventh inning and felt like it was the right thing to do to give him that opportunity given the way he was pitching.”

And, at least for now, Eickhoff will continue to get opportunities to pitch every five games, too.