Trouble with curve: Rare off day for Eickhoff

Trouble with curve: Rare off day for Eickhoff

MILWAUKEE -- It is easy to see why Jerad Eickhoff is filled with confidence every time he throws his curveball.

Eickhoff had allowed only two extra-base hits on curveballs in 11 career starts before Sunday's 8-5 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park: a double to Marcell Ozuna on Aug. 21, 2015, and a double to Melvin Upton on April 13. Opponents had hit a feeble .081 (6-for-74) with a .108 slugging percentage against the pitch.

"If I get beat on my curveball, I'll live with it," Eickhoff said.

It looked like history would repeat itself Sunday. Eickhoff struck out seven batters through five innings, with each strikeout coming on a curveball. The only blip came in the fourth when Ryan Braun hit a solo home run on a 1-2 curve.

Braun's solo home run

Eickhoff carried a 4-2 lead into the sixth, a frame that proved disastrous. Eickhoff did not finish the inning when five runs scored on him. He allowed a career-high seven runs in 5 1/3 frames.

"They just kind of all together seemed to know what was coming," manager Pete Mackanin said. "They hit him pretty hard, which is hard to figure."

Eickhoff allowed a solo homer to Scooter Gennett on a first-pitch changeup in the sixth to make it 4-3. Braun followed with a single on a 3-2 fastball and Chris Carter doubled on a 1-1 fastball to put runners on second and third with no outs. Eickhoff then threw Kirk Nieuwenhuis two breaking balls for strikes. Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp put down the sign for a 0-2 fastball, but Eickhoff shook him off. Rupp called for another breaking ball.

"He was confident in the pitch he wanted to throw," Rupp said.

Nieuwenhuis ripped a 0-2 breaking ball down the first-base line. It deflected off Ryan Howard's glove to allow two runs to score and give Milwaukee a 5-4 lead.

"I faced him with the Mets before, and in my mind, I was thinking, 'I'm going to get him with that,'" Eickhoff said about the curveball. "Even though it's 0-2, I was confident I would get him with that third one, but I left it up just a little bit."

Nieuwenhuis's two-run double

Get the curveball down and Eickhoff loves his chances there.

"I think he wanted to bounce it and let him swing over the top of it," Rupp said. "It happens. He makes a mistake, and that's supposed to happen when you make a mistake. You've got to pay for it. It hadn't really happened to him the first three starts. With him and his confidence in his curveball, I had no problem with it."

Two batters later, Jonathan Villar hit a 3-2 curveball for a double to score Nieuwenhuis to give Milwaukee a 6-4 lead.

Villar's RBI double

"Eick had a little hiccup there," Mackanin said. "Well, you know, they have a game plan and what they're trying to do ... I can't explain it. There's not an exact formula for anything, really. We have a book on hitters, but [stuff] happens."

Eickhoff will be back Saturday against the Indians at Citizens Bank Park, and he will be back throwing his curveball. Why wouldn't he? It's his moneymaker.

"Your confidence saying they're not going to hit this, no way," Eickhoff said. "But a big league hitter can hit a poorly located pitch no matter what it is, so I could have been a little better from that end."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. 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.