CLEARWATER, Fla. - It was just eight years ago that Roy Halladay arrived in Phillies camp without a consistent changeup. Halladay had more than survived without the pitch. He won a Cy Young Award in Toronto and finished in the top five of the voting four other times without really having a go-to changeup.
During his first spring with the Phillies in 2010, pitching coach Rich Dubee suggested Halladay try a new grip on his changeup. Halladay picked up the pitch quickly and the deeper repertoire helped him win 40 games over the next two seasons and take home another Cy Young Award.
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Now, on the same mounds that Halladay experimented and eventually mastered the changeup, Jerad Eickhoff does the same thing. He arrived at camp with a new grip. The pitch is a work in progress, but he likes the way it's going.
"I've been getting pretty good feedback on it and that's exciting," Eickhoff said after facing the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 5-4 loss Friday afternoon.
Eickhoff's overall results were not stellar. He gave up five hits, including a homer, and four runs in 3 1/3 innings, walked none and struck out three. While not totally pleased with the numbers, Eickhoff was able to keep the big picture in mind: this is spring training, a time to work on things.
"The first hit of the game was a changeup," he said. "But I'm happy with the speed and the counts I'm throwing it in."
Eickhoff threw mostly fastballs and curveballs with an occasional slider last season. He threw his changeup less than one percent of the time. Eickhoff's fastball sits in the low 90s. An effective changeup will make the fastball look quicker to a hitter. It all starts with the grip and Eickhoff believes he found one over the winter. It's pretty simple: All four fingers on top of the ball. Stay behind the ball, let it come off the fingertips and don't manipulate it too much.
"It's always been a task, the past four or five years," the thoughtful 27-year-old right-hander said. "You try to get to a grip because you get to the season and you don't want to go with three or four grips where you're not giving each one a chance. So I'm trying to stick with this one as long as I can. It seems to be something I can control in the zone and locate.
"I have a usable slider. To be able to throw the fourth pitch in there is huge. It can put you at another level."
Eickhoff still has an excellent curveball, though he wasn't pleased with the location of a couple of them early in his outing. But he ended with a couple of good ones.
"Right before I went out to get him, he landed two good curveballs in the zone," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I know he was happy about that.
"Overall, it was a strong performance. He relied a lot on his curveball last year. It's nice he can experiment with his other secondary pitches."