Morgan keeping pace in rotation chase

Morgan keeping pace in rotation chase

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff still has not pitched in a Grapefruit League game this spring, but the Phillies said they believe he will be ready to join the rotation at the end of the month.

If that happens, the Phillies figure they have four-fifths of their rotation set with Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola, Charlie Morton and Eickhoff, who has been sidelined with a fractured right thumb. The fifth job is available, and the top three candidates appear to be Vince Velasquez, Brett Oberholtzer and Adam Morgan.

Velasquez and Oberholtzer each pitched three scoreless innings on Monday against the Pirates in Bradenton. Morgan pitched three scoreless innings in Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Pirates at Bright House Field.

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Morgan has allowed three hits, two runs and one walk in five innings this spring.

"The competition in here is just making everybody else better," Morgan said. "So for them to go out and throw three innings scoreless, that's awesome for them. We're here to make the Phillies better, so you can't really root against a guy like that, because we're playing for the same team.

"You can't play GM, though. That's one thing I've learned. Once you think you've got it figured out, they throw you a curveball and you never know what's going to happen."

Ruf loves lefties 

Darin Ruf did what he does against left-handed pitchers on Tuesday, homering against Pirates southpaw Jon Niese.

Ruf's first homer of the spring handed the Phillies a two-run lead in the first inning. He entered camp as the favorite to play regularly at first base against left-handed pitchers this season because of his success against them in the past.

Ruf's two-run shot

His 1.107 OPS against lefties in 2015 would have tied Nelson Cruz for the best mark in baseball if he had enough plate appearances to qualify. His .946 OPS against lefties the past four seasons ranks 13th out of 311 players with 250-or-more plate appearances.

Ryan Howard, who has struggled against lefties in recent seasons, has not played since Friday because of a flu that has spread throughout the team. Manager Pete Mackanin said Howard could play as early as Wednesday.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.