Jerad Eickhoff left the Phillies bullpen on Thursday afternoon with a towel over his shoulder and optimism in his mind.
It was just earlier this month that Eickhoff traversed the country to find out why his fingers had gone numb when he last pitched. His season then looked in jeopardy. But Thursday he completed a pain-free bullpen session and will fly to Florida to face hitters and begin a rehab assignment.
"The most encouraging part of this was he never really stopped throwing," manager Gabe Kapler said. "There wasn't a whole lot of down time. So we feel like at least there is a possibility that this moves smoothly and quickly as well."
Eickhoff could be activated from the disabled list within the next month. The Phillies will then have to figure out where to place him because their current rotation, barring injuries, does not have any openings. Eickhoff will likely have to go to triple A.
Zach Eflin entered June on the cusp of losing his spot in the rotation, but he finished the month with a 1.76 ERA in five June starts. Nick Pivetta has 31 strikeouts in his last 221/3 innings. The Phillies are committed to Vince Velasquez, and Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta are obviously not going anywhere. A healthy Eickhoff — along with triple-A starters Cole Irvin and Enyel De Los Santos — gives the Phillies some pitching depth for the rest of the season.
"The curveball in and out of the zone plays really well," Kapler said of Eickhoff. "He's been a successful major-league pitcher, specifically when he has been healthy. So it's exciting to think about what might be if he comes back fully healthy and kind of the best version of Eickhoff."
Relievers on the mend
Pat Neshek will rehab Friday night with double-A Reading and Luis Garcia and Edubray Ramos both made progress from their injuries.
Garcia threw a bullpen session shortly before Eickhoff as the reliever pitched for the first time since heading to the disabled list with a strained wrist. He threw just fastballs and sliders Thursday and will test his splitter Saturday.
Ramos said he felt fine Thursday after throwing Wednesday. He is out with a shoulder impingement and not eligible to return until next week.
Rhys Hoskins became the fastest Phillies player ever to hit 30 career homers. He did it in just 119 games, which bested Chuck Klein (132) and Ryan Howard (134). The next milestone — the fastest to 50 homers — could be tough. Howard needed 182 games to hit 50, which gives Hoskins 63 games to hit 20 homers. If he did so, Hoskins' season total would be 32 by the first week of September. It could be close.
"I think the thing that stands out the most to me will always be the way he manages an at-bat for a young player, how early he sees ball vs. strike. How even though he swings and misses he still makes really good adjustments during an at-bat," Kapler said. "The home runs are impressive. There's no doubt about that. The power production is impressive, specifically when he is hitting the ball out to right-center field. That says he's locked in and the bat's really flying through the zone."