Say this for Jerad Eickhoff: He did something on Monday night that had never been done before in the 137 years that the Phillies have existed.
But it might wind up costing him his job.
Eickhoff gave up home runs to the first three batters in the first inning, marking the only time in franchise history that the Phillies began a game by allowing back-to-back-to-back long balls and earning the big right-hander derisive applause from a rain-soaked crowd when he finally did record an out.
In all, Eickhoff gave up five homers — and the Phillies allowed eight in a game in which the teams combined to set a major-league record with 12 home runs — in a 13-8 loss that dropped the Phillies into a first-place tie with the surging Atlanta Braves. And it continued an epidemic that has plagued Phillies pitchers all season — and Eickhoff, in particular, over his last half-dozen starts.
The Phillies have allowed 108 home runs this season, more by far than any National League team. Eickhoff has given up 16 to lead the club, a feat that is as remarkable as it is ignominious considering he didn’t allow any homers through 31 innings after getting called up from triple-A Lehigh Valley in mid-April.
And with Eickhoff’s next start scheduled for Sunday in Atlanta, manager Gabe Kapler wouldn’t commit to whether he will take the mound.
“I think these are things we need to talk about after the game,” Kapler said, “and [we’re] probably not there yet.”
After Eickhoff allowed three home runs in a May 30 start at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, Kapler said he wasn’t in danger of being removed from the rotation. But with Vince Velasquez having moved to the bullpen, the Phillies also lacked alternatives beyond triple-A lefty Cole Irvin and right-hander Enyel De Los Santos, who is still being stretched back out as a starter after pitching out of the bullpen in the big leagues.
Two weeks later, Irvin remains the best in-house solution. He pitched Sunday for Lehigh Valley and could conceivably take Eickhoff’s place if the Phillies elect to make that move.
“I expect to make the next start, and I’m going to show up tomorrow and work,” Eickhoff said. “That’s what I’ve always done. Nothing really changes. Just got to execute a little better and move on.”
Eickhoff’s fastball barely cracks 90 mph, which means he has less margin for error than most harder-throwing pitchers. But when he’s at his best, he hits his spots with precision and changes speeds by using his curveball and slider.
The Diamondbacks weren’t fooled by anything. Jarrod Dyson crushed a first-pitch fastball to open the game. Ketel Marte went deep on a curveball. David Peralta hit a slider. It marked only the second time that a road team hit three consecutive homers to begin a game, according to Baseball Almanac, and the first since Rickie Weeks, J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun for the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 9, 2007 at Cincinnati.
“Dyson, we talked about, especially as of late has been very patient, so we go right at him and he put one over the wall first pitch, so that was kind of interesting,” Eickhoff said. “The next couple of [batters], I just didn’t execute. From there, I was able to settle in for two innings, and then, I don’t know what happened. It was just one of those nights that every adjustment I made, I just couldn’t successfully repeat it or it didn’t work.”
Eduardo Escobar and Alex Avila smashed two-run homers against Eickhoff in the fourth inning after the Phillies had rallied to tie the game at 3-3. But Eickhoff was bothered more by walks to Adam Jones and Christian Walker that preceded the home runs.
And as he trudged off the mound, Eickhoff received boos from the sparse and soaked crowd.
“Home runs happen. Solo home runs happen,” Eickhoff said. “What I get frustrated with are the free passes before the home runs. The most frustrating thing is just not keeping us in the game, letting every single one of these guys in this clubhouse down.”
Eickhoff became the first Phillies pitcher to allow five homers in a game since Dustin McGowan on June 16, 2015 at Baltimore. He also was only the first Phillies pitcher since Vicente Padilla on April 19, 2005 to allow five homers while recording nine outs or fewer.
All this is to say it was the worst start of Eickhoff’s career, and it’s part of a six-start stretch in which he has allowed 27 runs in 27 1/3 innings.
Eickhoff is hardly alone, though. The Phillies are on pace to allow 265 homers, which would shatter the franchise record of 221 set in 2017. Home runs are up across baseball. The Phillies hit five of them on Monday night, with Scott Kingery going deep twice in addition to notching a triple.
But Kapler doesn’t have much appetite for watching the Phillies try to outslug their own pitching.