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Phillies' Eickhoff expected to miss 6-8 weeks

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Two days after introducing Jake Arrieta as their new staff ace, the Philadelphia Phillies suffered a hit to the middle of their starting rotation.

The Phillies said Friday that starter Jerad Eickhoff is expected to be out six to eight weeks with a strained lat muscle and will begin the season on the disabled list. Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez were lined up to slot into the 3-4 spots in the team's rotation after Arrieta and Aaron Nola.

Manager Gabe Kapler told reporters at Spectrum Field that Eickhoff suffered the injury late in a 3-1/3 inning appearance against the Pirates on March 9. The Phillies sent Eickhoff back to Philadelphia, where the diagnosis of a lat strain was confirmed.

"There might be a blessing in disguise here,'' Kapler said. "We're always thinking about keeping guys healthy and strong and limiting their total innings count. Those are things that are always on our mind, so it's possible the innings are limited on the front end and then in September, October, he's strong and healthy and prepared to go through a full season.''

Eickhoff, 27, came over to Philadelphia from Texas with fellow prospects Nick Williams and Jorge Alfaro as part of an eight-player trade that sent pitcher Cole Hamels to the Rangers in 2015.

Eickhoff got off to a promising start with the Phillies in 2016, when he went 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 197 1/3 innings. But his velocity declined last season, and he missed time with back stiffness and nerve irritation in his pitching hand. He finished the season at 4-8 with a 4.71 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in 128 innings.

Kapler said the team thinks that Eickhoff's current injury is unrelated to his upper-back problems a year ago.

With Eickhoff likely out until May, Nick Pivetta could assume a bigger workload to start the season. Ben Lively, Thomas Eshelman, Zach Eflin and Jake Thompson are the other starters in Philadelphia's camp in Clearwater.
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