A team's season sprouts, branches, and blooms much like a rose bush. In its youth, the plant is smooth, deep green but mottled with purple, and thin but lithe. It is potential manifest. We anticipate the flowers when small buds begin to bulge through the shoots. They feast on the solar victuals dispensed through the leaves and, finally, spread their petals so that we can enjoy their beauty. But as the flowers bloom so do the thorns. The branches stiffen, as if they suspect the hand that feeds will also be the hand that bleeds it. It pricks only so as to preemptively apply retribution. If we are to love the rose bush, we must take care not to let it harm us for our care. I don't know about you, but I've been failing to avoid the thorns and refuse to wear gloves. Coaxing out the blossoms is worth it, as was watching this game.
Tonight was one of those blossoms. Jerad Eickhoff battled a tough, albeit relatively weakened, lineup alongside an unforgiving strikezone for six scoreless innings. His command was not excellent but it was not bad either. It can be difficult to get ahead of hitters when the bottom of the zone stretches only to the top of the knee. After the first inning, Eickhoff had become so frustrated that Pete Mackanin politely discussed Todd Tichener's zone in between innings. Tichener appeared to say various sentences meaning *shrug*. Whether that conversation affected the zone after that is anyone's guess. Nevertheless, Eickhoff held the Blue Jays to 7 baserunners (4 walks, ahem, Mr. Tichener) with 5 strikeouts.
This start continues the recent trend of good starts for Eickhoff. His improvement over the last month corresponds to Eickhoff using his slider more and his curveball less. For the beginning of the season Eickhoff was basically a two-pitch pitcher: fastball and curve. By the end of April, hitters recognized this and were able to spit on his curveball or foul it off when it was at its best. By introducing the slider, Eickhoff has made all three of his primary pitches more effective because hitters can no longer adjust away from the fastball so easily. Let's hope this progress continues. Eventually, he'll probably need to use his change-up more too. But so far Eickhoff has shown himself able to improve his game to match the level of MLB play.
That said, his curveball is still his best weapon:
Eickhoff's 5th K comes on a beautiful curve pic.twitter.com/8Z5RQmgYjq— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) June 14, 2016
While Eickhoff kept his hand pressed over the percolating Blue Jays offense, the Phillies offense provided as much run support for him as we would expect. Here is the only run scored through the first 6 innings of the game:
Odubel homers and promptly says goodbye to his bat the only way he knows how pic.twitter.com/SrNTjnvTk1— chris jones¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (@LONG_DRIVE) June 13, 2016
But once Eickhoff was unofficially lifted, celebrating a good start with handshakes and slaps, the Phillies hitters did a curious thing: they piled on. The piling began with a Ryan Howard homer, a vintage swing that must confuse him in its late rarity.
After that, the Phillies simply kept hitting the ball away from the Blue Jays fielders. They sent baseballs careening off the quaint Skydome turf, and, by the end of the night, they had amassed 7 total runs. Thanks to a solid bullpen outing, despite a rough first two hitters for Neris, those 7 runs also constituted the margin of victory, the Phillies largest margin so far this season, and one they won't soon repeat.
Despite the final score, the game was close through almost its entirety. The Phillies still could use a win that is over before its halfway complete. But this game is a baby step towards that goal. Perhaps, they will take the next step in July.