CLEARWATER, Fla. - The Phillies' pitching staff has suffered a setback.
Jerad Eickhoff, projected as a member of the season-opening starting rotation, has been shut down with a strained right lat muscle, the area behind his shoulder. He will open the season on the disabled list and be sidelined into May, based on the team's six- to eight-week timetable for treatment and recovery.
Eickhoff, 27, spent time on the disabled list with a similar injury last season. That injury was technically called an upper back strain.
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Manager Gabe Kapler said Eickhoff injured himself on one of the final pitches he threw during his last start.
Eickhoff led the Phillies' staff in ERA (3.65) while making 33 starts in 2016. He was limited to 24 starts and had a 4.71 ERA last year while making two trips to the DL. His second trip to the DL, which ended his season, was for a nerve irritation in his right hand. Eickhoff is in Philadelphia being checked by doctors.
"We want to ensure, and we're pretty confident, that it's not related in any way to the (nerve) stuff he was dealing with last year," manager Gabe Kapler said.
Kapler added, "It's a mild lat strain. There might be a blessing in disguise here. We're always thinking about keeping guys healthy and strong and limiting their total innings count. Those are things that are always on our mind so it's possible the innings are limited on the front end and then in September, October, he's strong and healthy and prepared to go through a full season."
With Eickhoff down, the Phillies suddenly have some openings in their rotation. Jake Arrieta, who signed with the Phillies on Monday, believes he can be ready for the first week of the season, but nothing is official. Aaron Nola will be the opening day starter and Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are good bets to be in the rotation. The final spot could go to Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr. or Tom Eshelman.
It is not known whether the Phillies would pursue free agent Alex Cobb. On Monday, general manager Matt Klentak said his offseason moves were likely complete.