Tom Eshelman is an optimistic guy. He’s struggled throughout the season but continues to look for answers and doesn’t place any blame anywhere other than squarely on himself. He’s also looking at the upside of what has been an agonizing season, finding little points of light in what others may consider another bad outing.
Never one to duck the media, Eshelman stood tall and answered questions following his final start of the first half of the season. He had gotten off to a good start but when all was said and done, he had surrendered five earned runs in 6 2/3 innings of work against Rochester. Not the best of outings – in fact, it pushed his 6.28 season ERA up to 6.32 – but he was still optimistic.
“Earlier in the season I was giving up five [runs] in two [innings]. Today I went 6 2/3, so that’s a plus for me. My job as a starter is to go deep into the game and if you’re not doing that, you’re not doing your job. For me, going 6 2/3 is a good thing for me,” said Eshelman after his start against the Red Wings.
The struggles for Eshelman are unusual. After all, he was the Phillies Paul Owens Award winner last season as the organization’s best minor league pitcher when he went a combined 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He walked just 18 batters in 150 innings compared to walking 27 in his 84 innings of work this season with Lehigh Valley. Last season, Eshelman threw three complete games and has averaged just under five innings per start, although he has shown a lot of progress in going 13 2/3 innings in his two starts before the break.
Again, in a positive tone, Eshelman has found out some important things about himself and how he pitches that he’s putting to use to make himself a better pitcher. He’s also kept it all in perspective as he looks to rebound in the second half and wind up with respectable numbers.
“It is what it is. Baseball is a game of failure and you have to learn from your failure. Look at Chris Davis right now, he’s going through it in the majors,” explained Eshelman. “Like I said, it’s a blessing in disguise because you get to learn something about yourself and I’m learning how to throw a pitch in a certain zone rather than expecting to have success with that pitch in the same spot every time.”
So just what has the problem been? When a pitcher goes from having the type of season that Eshelman did in 2017 to the one he’s working through this season, there’s something different. The first thought is injury but Eshelman is healthy and there’s no reason for concern about any issues. He has been adamant that if he was feeling something out of place he would let the coaches know.
In working with pitching coach Dave Lundquist and watching a lot of video, Eshelman and Lundquist zeroed in on the position of his thumb when he releases the ball as being a big part of the problem. It caused him to leave pitches up in the zone, cut down on the movement of his pitches and see a lot of balls get hit hard.
“I was coming to the zone with my thumb going toward the right-hander’s batter’s box, so everything was kind of going against me at that point. For me to understand that and get back on top of the ball and get downward action and have that action toward the lower part of the zone has helped.
“My mechanics for about a month were a little off and I’ve finally gotten back to being comfortable and I can throw certain pitches where I want them. That was part of it, but I’m finally keeping the ball down in the zone again and that’s been a big part of it.”
When the season started, it was figured that Eshelman would be up with Philadelphia when they needed someone to add to the rotation because of an injury or a slump. That didn’t happen. Instead, he’s seen pitchers leap frog over him to make their major league debuts and it’s likely that there will be others – Cole Irvin comes to mind – who will probably pass him on the turnpike between Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia.
The 24-year old isn’t bitter at all about being passed up. He understands the game and he understands that the best make it to the majors. He also understands that he hasn’t been the best and that he can learn from the guys who have been pitching well enough to make it to Philadelphia.
“I’m happy for them because they’re having great years and it’s fun for me to see them succeed and see what they’re doing to succeed helps me to see things in my game,” said Eshelman. “I think I’m in a good little zone right now and I just want to keep the momentum going. I’m in a good spot mentally and with all of my pitches and I just want to keep the momentum going.”
For now, it’s the little things that Eshelman can pick up from his game that are keeping him positive. Rather than focusing on sheer numbers, he’s looking at what he can do to help the ball club even while he struggles through his own issues.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself this year and what I can do and what I’m capable of and what I’m not capable of,” said Eshelman after the outing against Rochester. “I’ve learned some things that I can use in order to succeed and I think it’s a blessing in disguise, the struggles that I’ve gone through. I’ve been better in my last couple of starts with the exception of a couple little speed bumps in the way, but I was happy that I got deeper in the game and gave the bullpen a bit of a break.”
For Eshelman, the second half begins tonight with a start at home against the Buffalo Bisons.