WILLIAMSPORT >> The Phillies moved closer Sunday to solving one of their remaining roster issues when Jerad Eickhoff had another encouraging rehab outing.
Out all season with a strained lat and a tingling in the middle finger of his pitching hand, Eickhoff struck out five and walked one in 4.2 innings for the Class AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs. The Phils still do not have a schedule for his return, but assistant general manager Scott Proefrock strongly hinted that it is high on the priority list.
“He’s making progress,” Proefrock said before the Phillies-Mets game. “And I think he’s getting through the issue that he had and is dealing with it. He’s going to give us another option, because we’re getting in a situation late in the year where we’ve been using (Enyel) De Los Santos and (Ranger) Suarez when we’ve needed another guy. He’s obviously more experienced than those guys are.”
Eickhoff made three rehab appearances with Class A Clearwater before giving the Pigs a strong start Sunday. Neither he nor the Phillies appear inclined to obsess over the rogue sensation in his hand, with reports suggesting that it is carpal tunnel syndrome.
“He seems to be fine,” Proefrock said. “He’d be a huge, huge addition, especially if something would happen or if we wanted to skip somebody to give him a blow. To have somebody of that quality to inject into the rotation for the last six weeks or whatever would be huge.”
Eickhoff will make at least one more rehab start for Allentown, with the Phils expected to recall him when major-league rosters expand Sept. 1. Gabe Kapler openly campaigned last week for a sixth starter and mentioned Eickhoff. Earlier, before the lat issue turned into the tingling problem, Matt Klentak was convinced the 27-year-old would be in the regular rotation.
“If he can get close to being back to where he was a couple of years ago,” Proefrock said, “it just gives us another option.”
In a continuing effort to end Odubel Herrera’s months-long slump, Kapler Sunday tried a new approach. For the second time in his career, Herrera hit No. 8 in the order.
“So the thought process behind that is kind of interesting,” the manager said. “We had Maikel Franco bat eighth when he was struggling a little bit. And one of the things it naturally forces you to do is become a tiny bit more patient, to see the ball a little bit longer and understand that the pitcher is hitting behind you, so you have to be hunting a pitch to drive and only a pitch to drive.”
Herrera, who was batting .348 earlier in the season, had been a .232 hitter since June 1. Recently, not only has Kapler occasionally used Roman Quinn in center, but he has had high praise for the speed he brings to the lineup. But though Kapler acknowledged having a chat with Herrera, who made a critical baserunning error in a Saturday loss to the Mets, the move down the order was not meant to be punitive.
“It just might be something that kick-starts him a little bit,” Kapler said. “We feel very confident that it’s not an indication that he can’t hit in our three-hole. He’s done it for a long time. We know there is a very good chance that he’ll be back in the three-hole at some point, and this is just a temporary move to see if we can put Odubel in a good position to succeed.”
With both teams traveling and playing on the same day, and with the Mets having a game scheduled Monday against the visiting Giants, both teams were approved to add a 26th player for the Little League Classic game. For the Phillies, that was Andrew Knapp.
When Wilson Ramos was activated after recovering from a hamstring issue, the Phillies did not need a third catcher and sent Knapp to the IronPigs. For the Phils, he was hitting .217.
“For me, it’s more about getting steady ABs and working around the infield and outfield,” Knapp said, “like Gabe had said before.”
In one game in Allentown, Knapp was 3-for-4 with a double in his first at-bat. He has been assured that he will be a September call-up. He said he expects to rejoin the Phils after Sept. 1.
Scott Kingery played in the Little League World Series for the Ahwatukee Little League of Arizona in 2006. In 2002, Knapp’s team, Lakeside of California, was eliminated late in the qualifying process.
Both visited with the West Region Little League World Series team Sunday afternoon before returning to the Phillies’ clubhouse across town sporting sky-blue “W” caps.
Kingery said his cap came just for the asking. Knapp, though, went into his pocket for $25 for one.
“Guess he didn’t ask the right person,” Kingery said, smiling.
For Knapp, the “donation” as he called it, was worth the price.
“Finally got one today,” he said. “I didn’t get one when I was 11, so I had to get one now. I was devastated. We played the whole summer and I knew school was starting the next week. So I knew I had to go to school. If we would have made it, I would have at least skipped some school.”
NOTES >> Since the All-Star break, Nick Williams was a .308 hitter with six home runs and 15 RBIs in 27 games. “I am just trying to worry about numbers less,” he said, “and just trying to have good at-bats, pitch by pitch.” ... The Phils will be off Monday before opening a three-game series in Washington Tuesday. Vince Velasquez (8-9, 4.13 ERA) will oppose right-hander Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.13) at 7:05. Zach Eflin (9-4, 3.70), who technically must be promoted from Lehigh Valley by then, will face right-hander Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 3.90) Wednesday night. Aaron Nola (14-3, 2.24) will start Thursday at 1:05. The Nationals have not named a starter.