Phillies find results in Jerad Eickhoff-Carlos Ruiz battery, stop losing skid at 9

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Phillies did not look much like the worst offensive team in baseball the last three days. They pounded out 38 hits, including eight home runs, and scored 22 runs in three games at Target Field.
 
But even with the offense clicking, it took until the Phillies had one foot on the airplane out of town before they could notch a victory in the series finale on Thursday afternoon.
 
The difference between the first two games — a pair of losses that extended the Phils’ losing skid to nine games — and the third?
 
Starting pitching.
 
Jerad Eickhoff did what Aaron Nola and Adam Morgan could not do. He kept the Minnesota Twins’ offense in check and the Phillies left town with a 7-3 win (see Instant Replay).
 
Ryan Howard belted his 11th home run to tie the game in the second inning and Freddy Galvis played small ball (a safety squeeze) and long ball (an RBI triple and a three-run homer) as the Phillies won for just the seventh time in the last 33 games.
 
This was a win the Phillies really needed, not for their place in the standings because by the end of this season they might be challenging for the top draft pick again, but for their sanity. The team hadn’t lost 10 in a row since 1999 and 10 losses in a row seems a lot worse than nine losses in a row, even though it’s really not. With the victory, the Phillies head into San Francisco to play the high-flying, National League West-leading Giants with at least a little bit of steam. They will face Jake Peavy, Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto, a slightly more formidable trio than Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco, who own ERAs of 6.18, 6.05 and 4.95, respectively.
 
“We came in here and hit the ball really well,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Hopefully it will bring out some confidence in these guys.
 
“It doesn’t matter who you’re facing, when guys are getting hits and raising their averages, they start feeling better about themselves even if they’re not getting hits off (Max) Scherzer or (Zack) Greinke or Bumgarner. That’s important for us because we’ve been down in the dumps.”
 
An interesting little subplot emerged in this game as Eickhoff was holding the Twins to five hits and two runs (one was unearned) over six innings for his fifth win and third in his last four starts.
 
Cameron Rupp was behind the plate for 10 of Eickhoff’s first 11 starts and the right-hander had a 3.88 ERA in those games.
 
Carlos Ruiz has caught Eickhoff’s last four. The pitcher has an ERA of 1.82 in those starts. Overall in five starts with Ruiz behind the plate this season, Eickhoff has a 2.35 ERA. And last year, Ruiz caught two of Eickhoff’s starts that resulted in 14 scoreless innings.
 
All this is no coincidence. Mackanin has paired Ruiz with Eickhoff by design. Eickhoff has recently incorporated his slider more into his starts and his results have improved.
 
“I think Chooch probably is willing to call more breaking pitches than Rupp for whatever reason,” Mackanin said. “Other than that, I don’t know what else to tell you. I’ll probably catch Chooch with Nola next time just to see. I just want to see.”
 
Ruiz does not score high in advanced metrics used to rate a catcher’s ability to frame pitches. But he is a tremendous game-caller. Just ask Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Jamie Moyer, who entrusted so much decision-making to him. Ruiz has never caught Nola, who has given up 22 hits, seven walks and 17 earned runs in just 9 2/3 innings over his last three starts. Maybe he can bring the 23-year-old right-hander out of his funk.
 
“On the other hand, Rupp, at least right now, offers more offense so it’s a tough call on that,” Mackanin said.
 
Eickhoff, who turns 26 on July 2, is a smart, levelheaded guy with a strong grasp of the team concept. He downplayed the one catcher vs. the other angle.
 
“It’s been good,” he said of working with Ruiz. “Rupp does a great job, too. I think [recent success] is just how I’ve felt. Throwing to Chooch has been good. Off-speed had been good, in and out. We’re just rolling. It’s just one of those things. It’s been fun.”
 
If Nola turns things around Sunday against the Giants with Ruiz behind the plate, Mackanin is going to have some interesting decisions down the road as he balances developing young pitchers with developing Rupp, who, at 27, is in his second season as a regular.
 
The magnitude of the Phillies’ struggles was not lost on Eickhoff coming into the game.
 
“I think every pitcher that goes out there wants to be the guy that stops the bleeding and gives us a chance to win,” he said.
 
He did that — with the help of the bats and some good bullpen work. Now it’s on to San Francisco and three with the hottest team in baseball.

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