A lack of timely hitting, mistake pitches over the middle of the plate, those kinds of things will happen for a young team devoid of power like the Phillies. If their inability to execute the last two games with runners in scoring position - 4 for 31, 26 left on base - stands out, it's only because through the first six weeks of the season, the Phils have gotten just enough offense to skate by with 14 one-run wins.
But keeping things in perspective, 2016 was always supposed to be about the progress of the Phillies' young players, not their win total or a series opener in May against the Marlins. And it's with that perspective that Monday night was a step in the right direction for Jerad Eickhoff, despite his suffering his National League-leading sixth loss of the season in the Phillies' 5-3 defeat to Miami (see Instant Replay).
Eickhoff, who entered Monday night having thrown his fastball or curveball 88 percent of the time, threw 21 sliders against Miami. The 25-year-old right-hander is known for his 12-6 curveball, but the slider, which he'd thrown just 7.5 percent of the time through his first seven starts, was his go-to breaking pitch in start No. 8.
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Giancarlo Stanton flailed at a few of them, striking out against Eickhoff's slider in his third at-bat. Yeah, Eickhoff was taken deep twice, and no, he's not fully out of the woods yet, but he was much better Monday than he was last week in Atlanta, when the Braves went in with a gameplan of laying off his curveballs and attacking any fastball they saw in the zone. On Monday, Eickhoff mixed it up more and his velocity was up a tick.
"From now on, the slider is a big pitch for me," Eickhoff said Monday after taking a few moments to compose himself. He was suffering from a migraine after the game, which he said could have been caused by dehydration.
"If I can throw that [slider] in between my fastball and my curveball, that speed difference is going to be huge. I think it's a big step in the right direction."
Eickhoff's slider averages 83 mph; his curveball is in the mid-70s. That speed variation mixed with the different break could provide Eickhoff a way to keep hitters off balance when he's ahead in the count. Instead of Stanton going to 0-1 and knowing a curveball is probably coming, he'll have to think about the slider, too.
To this point, Eickhoff's curveball has been so dominant - hitters were 4 for 48 against it entering Monday's game - that he's been able to get by utilizing mostly four-seam fastballs, two-seam fastballs and the big hook. But the more video the league has on him, the harder it's going to be for Eickhoff to freeze hitters with that curve. It's part of the progression for any young pitcher: adjusting back after the hitters make that initial adjustment of their own.
"It was just something that I've had to adjust to," he said. "The hitters are trying to adjust to me as well, with my pitches, my curveball. As much as I can keep them off balance. I think that curveball and slider combination is huge for me to get outs, especially versus left-handers.
"That was kind of our scouting report (against the Marlins). My curveball wasn't quite effective early on, but we had a good scouting report going in that they had a tough time with sliders. It was a pitch that I was able to continue to use from start to finish."
While the pitch usage for Eickhoff changed, the issue of little run support stayed consistent. The Phillies scored one run for him during his six innings and have scored just 13 total in his eight starts. That's the fourth-lowest run support figure this season for any pitcher with eight starts in the majors, ahead of only Matt Cain (Giants), Martin Perez (Rangers) and James Shields (Padres).
The Phils threatened on two different occasions, in the seventh and ninth innings, but failed to cash in with that one big blow. Tommy Joseph, an inning after collecting his first major-league hit, struck out on three pitches against right-handed reliever Kyle Barraclough with two men on in the seventh. And in the ninth, Maikel Franco's 400-foot blast fell into Marcell Ozuna's glove on the left-center field warning track.
Mackanin could have gone to Ryan Howard in Joseph's spot in the seventh but chose not to. He cautioned that Joseph is not strictly a platoon player, and said he wanted to see what the rookie could do in that situation. Obviously, this time it didn't work.
The Phils had two clear offensive standouts in the series-opening loss, both former Rule 5 picks. Odubel Herrera had hits in each of his final three at-bats to raise his batting average to .343 (sixth-best in the majors) and his on-base percentage to .453 (second only to Bryce Harper).
And Tyler Goeddel continued his hot hitting by going 3 for 4 with a double. He's 7 for his last 14 after going 7 for his first 44.
"The more playing time he gets, the better he looks," Mackanin said of Goeddel. "It's nice to see. Originally, he had hardly any good at-bats. But I just decided to play him a little bit more because I knew he had to be a better hitter than he showed early. And he's starting to come around a bit. So that's good to see, that's a positive we can look forward to."
Another is the potential impact of that addition to Eickhoff's pitching arsenal.
"This is his first full year in the big leagues," Mackanin said. "These guys are trying to prove they belong here. They're going to have hiccups along the way. But Eickhoff looked better tonight."