When the Phillies acquired Jerad Eickhoff from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels trade, they received a durable pitcher who made his turn in the rotation for each of his first 58 starts in the organization.
That streak ended June 20 when the Phillies placed Eickhoff, bothered by back stiffness, on the disabled list. He had never needed the DL before. The longest he had gone without starting was nine days in double-A ball three years ago.
Eickhoff returns Sunday for the Phillies against the San Diego Padres. Physically, he hopes the 21 days between starts resolved the back tightness before it escalated toward a more severe injury. But the time off could also give the 27-year-old righthander a chance to reset a season that has not gone according to plan.
"Being able to make every start was important to me, so missing one weighed on me a little bit," Eickhoff said. "But it allowed me to take a step back and realize, hey, I'm going to make this a positive. I'm going to come back with a clean slate and just work on things that I know I can do."
The return works out nicely for Eickhoff. He will pitch in the Phillies' last game before the All-Star break, likely setting up another week's rest after Sunday. He will face the struggling Padres, the only team that has scored fewer runs per game than the Phillies.
Eickhoff worked on making his delivery smoother after he felt it putting stress on his arm. It may have helped cause his back problem, too.
Either way, his rehab start Tuesday for double-A Reading was promising. Eickhoff cruised through five innings on 57 pitches, throwing 42 of them for strikes. He gave up two hits and only one run on a solo homer.
A similar performance Sunday could redirect his season, and perhaps it could help the Phillies do the same with theirs.
"I just look at things day-to-day, but you look around, you can see that the season kind of wears on people," he said. "I think it'll be good for all of us, just to reset, recharge and realign our thoughts and get things going for the second half."
The Phillies optioned Ben Lively to triple-A Lehigh Valley after Saturday's game to clear roster space for Eickhoff. That will allow Lively to pitch in the first game after the all-star break for the IronPigs, rather than go almost two weeks between starts in the majors. He could be replaced by Vince Velasquez in the Phillies' rotation later this month.
The transaction means Mark Leiter Jr. will remain with the Phillies as an extra bullpen arm.
Howie Kendrick, Cesar Hernandez and Vince Velasquez should all return sometime during the team's road trip to begin the second half, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said. The Phillies are in Milwaukee and Miami from July 14 to 19.
Kendrick, sidelined by a strained left hamstring, should begin a minor-league rehab assignment sometime near the end of the all-star break. Klentak said he does not believe the injury will affect his ability to deal Kendrick before the July 31 trade deadline.
"He's got a 10-year track record of being a pretty consistent offensive performer who can play multiple positions," Klentak said. "I'm sure that, if I'm another club, I want to see that he's healthy, but I think we'll have plenty of time for that."