Phillies-Marlins 5 Things: Important Start for Jerad Eickhoff

Phillies (22-16) vs. Marlins (20-17)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After handling their business over the weekend and taking two of three from a bad Reds team to improve to 8-4 in 12 series this season, the Phillies begin a three-game set Monday night with the Miami Marlins.

Let's get you set:

1. Since they last met
The Phils were in Miami just over a week ago, winning two of three games, both by one run. Since then the Phils have won two more series, going 4-2 against the lowly Braves and Reds. 

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The Marlins, who entered that last Phillies series winners of 10 of 11 games, proceeded to beat the Brewers in two out of three and then split a four-game series at Nationals Park. The Marlins won the last two games in D.C., but, luckily for the Phillies, used Jose Fernandez on Sunday, meaning the Phils will again avoid Miami's ace.

Marcell Ozuna has been the Marlins' hottest hitter the last week, going 13 for 26 (.500) with two doubles, a triple, three RBIs and eight runs. Catcher J.T. Realmuto has also been swinging well, going 8 for 23 (.348) with a double and four RBIs. (Realmuto had a homer taken away last Monday when Ozuna misread the situation and allowed Realmuto to pass him on the bases. It was ruled an RBI single instead, with Realmuto being called out after reaching first.)

Giancarlo Stanton is in another slump. He's 4 for 31 (.129) over his last nine games and has driven in just one run on a solo homer. He's also struck out 11 times.

2. Huge start for Eickhoff
Even though it's the middle of May, this is an important outing for Jerad Eickhoff. The 25-year-old right-hander pitched poorly in Atlanta last week in his shortest outing of the season.

In his last four starts, Eickhoff is 0-3 and his ERA has risen from 1.89 to 4.43. His last two times out, he's struck out two batters apiece after totaling 32 in 30⅓ prior innings.

As we outlined last week, Eickhoff's fastball has been extremely hittable this season, to the tune of a .366 opponents' batting average and 16 extra-base hits. His curveball has still been working, holding opponents to 4 for 48 (.083), but the lack of fastball command or a true third pitch is keeping him from progressing.

The Marlins are the type of team a pitcher in Eickhoff's situation should want to face, because aside from Christian Yelich, this is a free-swinging bunch that hits much better against the fastball than it does against soft stuff. So as long as Eickhoff's curveball is working the way it usually is, and as long as he's able to spot his fastball inside and outside rather than over the middle and up, he should be able to get plenty of outs tonight.

The one hitter who obviously sticks out in Miami's lineup is Stanton, who has 11 homers on the season. Stanton's biggest weakness is being unable to lay off breaking balls on the outer-third of the plate. His plate coverage does not extend to the outside corner but it's a pitch he still hasn't learned to take consistently. Typically, you'll see pitchers throw a lot of sliders away to Stanton. Eickhoff's breaking ball is that 12-6, vertical curveball, so it's a different look. He may have to mix in some sliders against Stanton. Eickhoff has used that pitch just 7.5 percent of the time this season.

Eickhoff has faced the Marlins just once, pitching six shutout innings against them last summer.

3. Tough lefty on the mound
Adam Conley has flown under the radar but is developing as a pretty good second option behind Fernandez in the Marlins' rotation. The 25-year-old southpaw is 2-2 with a 3.72 ERA in seven starts this season after going 4-1 with a 3.76 ERA in 67 innings last season.

Conley is a tall, lanky 6-foot-3 left-hander who drags his arm across the zone during his delivery. There's just a lot of moving parts to his wind-up, which creates deception and keeps the hitters a bit off-balance. It sure did three starts ago, when Conley pitched 7⅔ no-hit innings at Miller Park against the Brewers before being lifted. That's right, Conley was pulled by manager Don Mattingly with four outs to go in a no-hitter because his pitch count was at 116.

That's just the game today. It's hard to find fault with Mattingly's decision given how often we see pitchers go down from overuse. Miami has been cautious with Conley, having him exceed 95 pitches in only that one start this season.

Conley is a three-pitch pitcher: fastball that averages 93 mph, changeup and slider. He's thrown the fastball 67 percent of the time this season.

Teams have loaded up against Conley with right-handed hitters and it hasn't worked - they're just 20 for 106 (.189) against him with 34 strikeouts. Lefties, meanwhile, have gone 10 for 27 (.370) with a 1.007 OPS.

The Phils saw Conley three times last year. He went 0-1 with a 2.00 ERA, striking out 15 in 18 innings. 

Look for Andres Blanco to get a start somewhere tonight. He went 2 for 6 with two doubles against Conley in 2015, giving him the only two extra-base hits active Phillies have against the left-hander in 28 at-bats.

4. Second start for Joseph
Tommy Joseph will make his second start at first base. He went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts and a walk in his MLB debut last Friday night. The Phils also face a lefty on Tuesday in Wei-Yin Chen, so Joseph should start back-to-back games. 

After that, however, the Phillies are scheduled to face seven consecutive right-handers, not seeing another lefty until May 27 in Chicago (Jon Lester).

These will be two important nights for Joseph because it appears his playing time will be limited over the next week.

5. This and that
• Sunday afternoon's game was only the second in the last 19 in which Maikel Franco drove in multiple runs. After his three-RBI day he's on pace for 30 doubles, 30 homers and 94 RBIs.

• Jeanmar Gomez and Hector Neris have each had two days off in a row, an eternity for them. The back-end of the Phillies' bullpen is well-rested headed into this series.

• At minus-30, the Phillies have by far the worst run differential of any MLB team that has a winning record. Next-worst is the Pirates (19-17) at minus-two.

• The Phils have won six of their last seven at Citizens Bank Park.

• Martin Prado has been a Phillie-killer for a while and Yelich is developing into one. Prado is a .310 career hitter against the Phils and went 6 for 10 with a pair of doubles in the previous series. Yelich is a career .331 hitter against them.

• Odubel Herrera's .448 on-base percentage ranks third in the majors, behind only Dexter Fowler (.456) and Bryce Harper (.448).

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