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Peeking at the Phillies rotation as they play out the stretch

Three primary Phillies arms have been shut down - four if you count Charlie Morton.

Philadelphia Phillies v Chicago White Sox
“Adam, have you tried growing a mustache?” “Please stop asking me that.”
Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images

Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola, and now Vince Velasquez are all spending the rest of 2016 in the dugout. Unfortunately, there are still (consults schedule, eyes bulge) 24 games left, and somebody’s going to have to throw ‘um.

Let’s take a gander at the old depth chart.

Adam Morgan

You’ve likely enjoyed Morgan’s last two starts, a development many of us likely hadn’t foreseen. How exactly did Morgan outmaneuver so many people from the internet making such bold claims like, “He is bad?” Well, as with all things, all it took for Morgan to put together a pair of adequate starts during the season’s garbage time was the threat of losing his job.

Just before the All-Star break, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure met with struggling pitcher Adam Morgan and delivered news that no young major leaguer wants to hear.

Mackanin and McClure told Morgan that he was going back to Triple A.

Yes, according to Jim Salisbury, Morgan was told his fastball didn’t work and god help him if he strayed near the upper part of the strike zone; things that opposing hitters had more or less been telling him for months, just with harshly batted balls instead of harshly uttered words. So, Morgan disappeared into the minors, and when he resurfaced, uniform tattered and clutching an International League Player of the Week award, he had made some adjustments.

Fortunately for him, the Phillies rotation continued to be feasted upon by injury bugs in his absence, meaning his return was inevitable. The opportunity came, and Morgan was slotted in behind Jake Thompson, and from that post he has, in four starts, successfully lowered his MLB ERA under 6.00.

After lasting three innings in his return, Morgan has gone 6.0 IP in three of his last four starts, including that August 31 showdown with the Nationals in which he almost reached the 7.0 IP Promised Land. He hasn’t allowed a walk in two starts, which has translated into a more tolerable 3.67 SO/W ratio and let him stick around deeper into games, having thrown far fewer pitches (last night he was only up to 85 through 6.0 IP before getting yanked).

And it’s all because he’s started forging that new two-seamer McClure was encouraging when he and Mackanin first sat the 26-year-old southpaw down and told him his job was in jeopardy. It’s not there yet, but should Morgan have learned to keep his heater from being a delicious meatball fated for an outfield gap, he may well have earned a longer stay in the majors.

Jeremy Hellickson

Hellboy is reaching his tipping point. At 160 IP on the season, the 29-year-old is quickly reaching the ceiling he established earlier in his career for innings in a season, somewhere in the 180-190 IP range. That’s not to say he can’t go longer, just that he hasn’t before, and man; he’s just got to be tired by now.

Putting aside the actual pitching, there was also the two months of the season in which he was just a trade rumor with a heartbeat. All guys say they ignore the July deadline talk and just do their jobs, but it seemed to go on forever with Hellickson and likely served as another hurdle for him to climb over as he worked through a tough season on a bad team (The bad team is another hurdle).

He may be the most the reliable arm on the Phillies rotation, but that doesn’t make him immune to bad starts. On August 27, the Mets punched through him pretty easily (7 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 2 HR in 4.0 IP) at the start of a 12-1 loss that quickly turned from a baseball game to a complete waste of time. But, then he came back and gave the Phillies a chance against the Braves by throwing six innings, allowing four earned runs; a run total the Phillies offense was actually able to match until their bullpen allowed Atlanta to take control of the game.

There’s no mystery to Hellickson; the Phillies know what they have, and they know they could have traded him or let him slip through on waivers without pulling him back, but they didn’t. Now, he will be here until he’s not anymore. On a rotation starved of innings, Hellickson was able to give the Phillies at least 6.0 IP in 18 of his 27 starts. That might not get classified as “impressive,” but it certainly helped. Just a few more frames, Mr. Hellickson. Sir.

Jerad Eickhoff

My god, Jerad, you’re alive. Isn’t that enough?

Hell no, says Jerad Eickhoff. Instead of packing his effectiveness into a handful concentrated starts, Eickhoff has been spread out more evenly over the season, and perhaps for that reason, he’s one of the only young arms still standing.

You can likely feel Eickhoff drifting into the “tough, blue collar worker” narrative, because he is. He’s already been labeled a “grinder,” not needing flash or exuberance to get the job done, like a worker in a hard hat clocking in at one of Philadelphia’s countless souvenir replica Liberty Bell factories. Freddy Galvis compared him to Roy Halladay the other day. Mmm.

But hey, no one’s complaining; or at least, they shouldn’t be. Eickhoff has danced on, or just shy of, the precious 6.0 IP threshold that eludes most Phillies starters, for all of August, and in doing so, has simultaneously danced just under that 100-pitch threshold in each start as well (98, 94, 99, 97... but against the White Sox on August 24, he needed only 71 pitches to get through six innings. That’s Halladay-esque efficiency. I am not helping).

An average Eickhoff start is going to last six frames, see him give up 3-4 ER, 5-7 H, 0-2 BB and, in all likelihood, some opposing hitter is going to square up on his fastball the second or third time through the order. The thing is, he’s established a repertoire, into which he can throw a squirrely curve and buckle a few guys for strike three. We can guess what an Eickhoff start is going to look like and most of the time be pretty correct. That’s a luxury among this staff; Eickhoff’s bringing the stability, which anyone in an adult relationship will tell you is a huge get.

Jake Thompson

If we’re characterizing guys based on the last time we saw them, then Jake Thompson is a tough-as-nails youngster who doesn’t let immediate adversity get him down. Instead of being overwhelmed by an early Nationals onslaught on August 29, Thompson came back out and allowed no more shenanigans for the remainder of his seven-inning appearance, inspiring this thumb-up Jim Salisbury tweet.

The 22-year-old maintained that momentum in his follow-up against the Braves, in which he went seven strong once again, allowing only a single earned run, though he did walk four and hit a guy. Still, he’s halved his ERA since August 6; and no, I will not clarify that statement with the appropriate context.

The long and short of it is, Jake Thompson has looked good in his last 14 IP, half of which came against one of the best teams in the National League. He’s trending upward with only a fraction of a season left, so the more we can see of him, the better; and there’s not a concern about him running out of gas since he only got here in August (this is part of the context I won’t be mentioning from earlier)!

Alec Asher

Well, well, well.

Asher really “Benjen Stark’d” his way out of the 2016 Phillies plot, getting hit with an 80-episode suspension stemming from a failed drug test in mid-June for Chlorodehydromethyltestosterone, the same anabolic steroid that got Daniel Stumpf. There hasn’t been much to say about Asher since then, and he was rehabbing in Reading when talk of him being Vince Velasquez’s replacement for the rest of the season first surfaced. He made seven starts for the Phillies last year and allowed 30 ER in 29 IP.

Asher got six innings with the Gulf Coast Phillies, allowing an earned run and four hits, six strikeouts and two walks. He allowed one extra base hit, a home run, in his final appearance with the team. Afterward, he was bumped up to Reading on September 3, where he tossed four innings in one appearance, allowing two earned runs, five hits, one walk, and five strikeouts.

So, the 24-year-old has to take advantage of this new start, even if it is just a blip on the 2016 radar. There can be an impression made in that time, or at least the start of an impression, to indicate he is into making up for lost time.

Of course, Asher is going to have the added stress of Taylor Swift’s newly single status to contend with.