Eaton settling into spring groove

Eaton settling into spring groove

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It must be something about the Twins.

Adam Eaton permitted just four hits -- all singles -- in his 5 1/3 innings of work Friday and held Minnesota to one run in his second straight solid start. Eaton was one out away from turning in back-to-back scoreless outings, and his push for the Phillies' No. 5 starter spot is stronger each time he toes the rubber.

Sure, he's already the favorite to assume the role, but after the way his spring began, it never hurts to give a little extra push down the stretch.

"All along I've said that I believed I was the fifth starter," said Eaton, who allowed just one hit, a Michael Cuddyer single, between the second and sixth innings of the Phillies' 3-2 win over the Twins at Hammond Stadium. "It's mine, and somebody's going to have to take it away from me."

The righty also fanned four and walked none to drop his ERA to 5.84, down from 9.00 heading into Friday's game. Through 12 1/3 innings so far, he's yet to walk a batter.

"Trust me, I know when I have three balls on a guy," Eaton said. "I haven't walked a guy all spring, and I'd like to keep that going. It's nice to force them to put the ball into play.

"I'd much rather have them get on by a hit -- they've earned it -- instead of giving them a free pass."

Eaton opposed Minnesota in his March 15 outing as well and earned a no-decision after scattering five hits over three innings and punching out two. He's faced the American League Central team just one time in his regular-season career, and he stymied the Twins then as well, allowing four hits over six innings during another scoreless day.

"He had some pop on his fastball today, he threw cutters, changeups, curve balls and used all of his stuff," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. "It's very encouraging. ... When he can pitch like that, it is very encouraging."

Eaton was removed in favor of left-hander J.C. Romero in the seventh after Adam Everett connected for a line-drive single to right. Romero would allow Everett to score before he worked himself out of the frame, which halted Eaton's scoreless streak at 8 1/3 innings.

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Still, it was not a bad run, and both Eaton and Manuel felt good about the progress made.

"It's nice to get those awkward-looking swings like I used to get a lot more," Eaton said. "The cutter's been good over the last couple of games."

It's also a big jump from how Eaton started the Grapefruit League -- a 15.75 ERA after two starts that totaled four innings, 10 hits allowed and just two strikeouts. Eaton's record since has been just as impressive as the first two outings were ugly -- a 1.08 ERA, nine hits and six punchouts.

So what's been the big difference between the first two starts of his exhibition season and these last two?

Eaton said it could be a number of things, ranging from no longer having to deal with shoulder and back problems to getting a better handle on certain mechanics.

"It's a combination of both," Eaton said. "Mechanically, I feel more sound, and I feel like every pitch I can do what I need to do as opposed to before when I was kind of trying to get away with something instead of using proper mechanics. Anything, if it hurts to do, you try to sidestep a little."

Manuel said he wasn't really too concerned with the whys, as long as Eaton keeps performing like he has been.

"The big thing for us is to be ready and pitch like that when the season starts," Manuel said. "This shows we're getting ready and getting close, and now we have to take it into the season."

Dawn Klemish is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.