One of the reasons the Phillies have struggled so much is that the young pitchers have taken a step back. Nobody in the starting rotation has progressed as expected this season. That is why the Phillies had to be encouraged by the debut of righthander Ben Lively.
The 25-year-old Lively allowed just one run in seven innings during Saturday’s 5-3 win over the San Francisco Giants.
What was interesting is that Lively didn’t strike out a single batter in the seven innings.
Whether a starter can have success without striking out hitters remains to be seen, but the Phillies are hoping that some of the young arms who are having success in the minors can do the same at the big league level.
It hasn’t been easy.
Lively is just the latest young pitcher to join the rotation. It’s a rotation that also includes righthanders Aaron Nola who just turned 24, Jerad Eickhoff, who turns 27 next month and Vince Velasquez, 25 on June 7. Velasquez is on the disabled list with a flexor strain. The Phillies are encouraged that Velasquez will be back throwing after a few weeks of rest.
In addition, righthander Nick Pivetta, 24, was called up for the second time this year on Monday.
The old man of the rotation is 30-year-old Jeremy Hellickson, who has not pitched well after compiling a 1.80 ERA in April.
Hellickson can be a free agent next season after signing the Phillies $17.2 million qualifying offer. The way he is pitching and with such a high salary, it will be difficult to move him at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
So the Phillies have the pitchers who are at the right age, but the only problem is that they have been inconsistent.
At the beginning of the week, here were the ERAs of the Phillies starters – Hellickson (4.50), Pivetta (5.12 in only four starts), Eichkoff (5.13), Nola (5.06) and Velasquez (5.58).
Even if the Phillies had a strong offense, such high starter ERAs aren’t conducive to winning. The fact that the Phillies have struggled offensively, just has made the pitching woes more pronounced.
At the beginning of the week, the Phillies starting pitching ERA was 5.31, which was 14th in the 15-team National League.
Eickhoff has taken the biggest step back. In 2015 he was 3-3 with a 2.68 ERA in eight late-season starts. Last season he was 11-14 with a more than respectable 3.65 ERA.
This season he has been hit hard. In 2015, the opposing batting average against Eickhoff was .212. Last season it was .259. This year entering the week, it was .289.
His WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) this is year 1.56 compared to 1.16 last year and 1.04 in 2015. He is the player most thought would take that natural next step upward. Now one has to wonder whether Eickhoff and the rest of the young pitchers can turn it around with about two-thirds of the season remaining.
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