Eickhoff has proven his value to Phillies

Eickhoff has proven his value to Phillies

PHILADELPHIA -- The prevailing opinion has been that with Jeremy Hellickson's pending free agency, the Phillies will need to add a veteran arm to their rotation for the 2017 season.

That arm may, however, already be in the rotation -- the only one to have spent the entire season there, too -- in the form of 26-year-old right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, who threw six innings, allowing one run, in the Phillies' 5-2 win over the Mets on Sunday to close their 2016 campaign.

Those six innings pushed Eickhoff's season total to 197 1/3; he fell eight outs short of breaking the 200-inning milestone. Manager Pete Mackanin pulled him after 86 pitches and six innings for the exact reason he was so valuable this season -- his health.

"If he didn't have that rain delay [in Atlanta in July], we probably would have won that game, plus he would have got to 200 innings," Mackanin said. "He's close enough that he has proven his value to the team. He has been a real stalwart to this rotation, and it's good to have him."

"It's a selfish benchmark," Eickhoff said of reaching 200 innings. "But it's a cool thing to look back on at the end of things here. I was just very fortunate to stay healthy, that's the biggest thing."

As a young starter, Eickhoff isn't wrong. In the age of pitch counts and innings limits, 33 starts from a pitcher in his first full Major League season is particularly impressive. Forget that he finished in the top 15 of National League starters in ERA. That his walks per nine innings ranked behind only Bartolo Colon, Mike Leake and Johnny Cueto. That only Hellickson, whose ERA he bested with Sunday's effort, had a higher WAR among Phillies pitchers.

Eickhoff remained in the rotation from the time it consisted of Hellickson, Charlie Morton, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez to their various replacements of Adam Morgan, Jake Thompson, Alec Asher, Zach Eflin and Phil Klein.

"The biggest thing is just making every start and making sure I kept these guys in the game the best I could each and every time," Eickhoff said. "Was I able to do it every game? No, but the majority of the time, I was leaving the game and giving us a chance to win or be in the ballgame. That's all I want to do."

With Eickhoff's ERA dropping to a final mark of 3.65, he joined Cole Hamels (2008, 2010, 2013), Roy Halladay (2010), Jamie Moyer (2008), Brett Myers (2005) and Curt Schilling (1997, 1998) as the only Phillies since 1996 to start at least 33 games with an ERA below 3.75.

Mackanin was counting on this kind of season from Eickhoff since Spring Training. The Phillies will open camp next year with a bevy of young starters competing to fill the five rotation spots.

Because of the consistency and durability Eickhoff has shown the last two seasons and the experience he's gained in doing so, he could be considered the front-runner to start on Opening Day in Cincinnati. Mackanin called him "a possible number one, without question."

Eickhoff responded with a deep breath when presented with the possibility of opening 2017 as the man at the front of the rotation.

"I don't know," he responded after a brief pause. "I just want to be one of those five guys. Truly, deep down, that's all I care about is being one of the five. If I'm fortunate to be there, it'd be a tremendous honor."

Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.