Jerad Eickhoff's first full season in the majors will be filled with tests. He will log more innings than ever before. He will face teams for the second, third, or fourth time. And he will face adversity, from which the Phillies will allow Eickhoff to find his way out. Monday night's 5-2 loss to the Mets brought Eickhoff his latest challenge.
Eickhoff walked opposing pitcher Noah Syndergaard with one out in the seventh inning, putting runners on first and second. The 25-year-old had already fired 91 pitches. His night could have ended there. Instead, manager Pete Mackanin opted to leave him in.
Eickhoff used nine pitches to strike out the next two batters, ending his outing and passing the night's test at Citizens Bank Park. Eickhoff struck out nine batters, walked three, and allowed two runs on five hits in seven innings. He had great command of his curveball, a pitch that catcher Cameron Rupp said Eickhoff will "live and die on."
It was Eickhoff's second straight seven-inning, nine-strikeout start. The Mets broke the game open in the eighth with a pair of homers off David Hernandez.
"He really gritted his teeth, went after them, and did a great a job," Mackanin said of Eickhoff. "That was a good test."
The Phillies offense was tamed by Syndergaard, one of the game's elite pitchers. The righthander overpowered the Phillies with a 100-mph fastball and a 94-mph slider. He struck out eight batters and walked two in seven innings. Syndergaard allowed his lone run in the third inning as Odubel Herrera slapped a 99-mph fastball to left field to score Freddy Galvis.
Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard reached base with two outs in the sixth, as the Phillies looked ready to rally. Syndergaard quelled those hopes with five pitches to Rupp, three of which were 100 mph or faster. He froze Rupp with a 101-mph fastball on the inside part of the plate. Rupp bent his knees and dropped his head as he was called out. Syndergaard made the Phillies look helpless.
"It's not easy with him," Rupp said. "He has good stuff and he showed it off tonight."
Not that more evidence was needed, but Monday proved again that the Phillies will be hard-pressed to create offense. They are averaging a National League-worst 2.57 runs through their first 14 games. Monday was also proof that the team's young pitching will keep the Phillies competitive and watchable.
The Phillies are just the fourth team since 1900 to have three starters age 25 or younger - Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola - record nine or more strikeouts and no walks in a start.
Eickhoff's outing appeared ready to crumble when he almost beaned Syndergaard as the opposing pitcher attempted a sacrifice bunt. Eickhoff then walked Syndergaard, forcing pitching coach Bob McClure to visit the mound. McClure and the infielders gathered around Eickhoff, who was about to enter his crucial test of the night.
He took off his hat, crouched behind the mound, and then readied to meet Curtis Granderson. He struck him out with three curveballs. David Wright, who hit a pair of home runs, met the same fate, swinging through a 78-mph curveball. Eickhoff shouted as he walked off the mound. The pitcher twice pounded his fist into his glove. Test, passed.
"For him to stick with me and me to get out of that situation, I was really emotional and excited to get out of it," Eickhoff said. "I have to keep our team where I want to keep them."