Phillies-Marlins preview

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff is a big man at 6-4 and 245 pounds, and the Philadelphia Phillies right-hander works in a way that befits his imposing stature.

In his first full year in the majors, the 26-year-old Eickhoff has yet to miss a start.

“That's my job,” Eickhoff told the media after his most recent start. “I take pride in being able to do that.”

He will get start No. 28 on Monday, when the Phillies (60-76) open a three-game series at the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. The Phillies are hoping to snap a six-game losing streak.

Meanwhile, the Marlins (68-69) come home after a brutal 1-6 road trip, including a 6-5 walk-off loss at the Cleveland Indians on Sunday. Miami relievers allowed six runs, including three in the ninth. That loss put the Marlins four games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the second and final wild-card playoff berth.

Miami is under .500 for the first time since April 28.

Eickhoff will seek to take advantage of the Marlins slump and will be looking to pitch more like last year, when he made his major league debut, going 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA in eight starts. He was 7-for-8 in terms of quality starts, using a low-90s fastball and a hammer curve to neutralize batters.

This year hasn't been quite as good for Eickhoff, who has 15 quality starts, a 9-13 record and a 3.90 ERA. His batting average allowed has increased from .212 last year to .261 this year, when he has allowed 22 home runs.

Eickhoff was at his best this June, when he went 3-2 with a 2.23 ERA. But his ERA was 4.50 in July and 4.85 in August.

Among Eickhoff's problems includes the fact that he has struggled on the road — his 4.55 ERA away from Philly is almost one run higher than it is at home.

In addition, Eickhoff has struggled late in his starts. He has a 2.64 ERA in the first five innings but 12.32 thereafter.

Yet another problem has been Eickhoff's inability to consistently handle lefty hitters, who are batting .279 with 14 homers against him. He is holding righty hitters to a .239 average and eight homers.

The Marlins, who will start rookie right-hander Jake Esch against him, will likely look to load the lineup with lefty batters.

Among the lefty hitters who could do some damage for the Marlins are first baseman Derek Dietrich, second baseman Dee Gordon and outfielders Ichiro Suzuki and Christian Yelich.

They and the rest of the Marlins offense will try to support Esch, who will be making just his second major league appearance.

Esch, a 26-year-old Minnesota native who played shortstop in high school, was a pitcher/hitter in his college days at Georgia Tech. The Marlins made him their 11th-round pick in 2011, drafting him as a pitcher even though he had just five innings on the mound in his junior year.

With a fastball that ranges from 90 to 94 mph, Esch is not overpowering, and — like Eichhoff — he's had his struggles against lefty batters.

But with the Marlins rotation injuries — left-handers Adam Conley and Wei-Yin Chen are on the disabled list — Miami has little choice but to give Esch a chance.

In his first big-league start, last week against the New York Mets, Esch averaged 91 mph on his fastball and lasted just 4 1/3 innings. He allowed seven hits, three walks and two runs, striking out two.

The Mets hit .389 against Esch, who escaped with a no-decision.

“There's nothing like getting thrown into the fire,” Esch told the media after allowing a two-run homer to Mets infielder Wilmer Flores. “I wish I could have taken back that one mistake.”

Esch, who had 20 family members in the stands for his big-league debut in New York, should have a more normal pregame experience leading up to Monday.

But even if Esch were to give Miami a good start, the Marlins' bullpen is suddenly a concern. Closer Fernando Rodney was dominant with the San Diego Padres earlier this year, posting a 0.31 ERA in 28 games, earning an All-Star berth.

But in 29 games since he was acquired by Miami, Rodney is 2-2 with a 4.45 ERA. He inherited a two-run lead on Sunday and couldn't hold it, giving up a tying hit with two outs and a 1-2 count.

Set-up man A.J. Ramos, who was an All-Star closer before the Marlins got Rodney, had a 2.25 ERA before the All-Star Game and a 6.28 ERA since then, including an 8.22 mark in August.