Phillies

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zach Eflin's turn to try to quiet the Mets

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zach Eflin's turn to try to quiet the Mets

Phillies (4-8) at Mets (7-6)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After taking Monday off to recover from the frustrating walk-off loss to Bryce Harper and the Nationals Sunday afternoon, the Phillies are back at it tonight.

It's another series against the Mets -- when it's over, the Phillies will have played their last 12 games all against the Nationals and Mets.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Eflin's season debut
Zach Eflin was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley early Tuesday afternoon when the Phillies placed Clay Buchholz on the disabled list.

Buchholz had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm and is out 4 to 6 months, essentially ending his season (see story).

That means Eflin will have an opportunity to solidify a spot in the Phillies' rotation beyond tonight if he can piece together the type of efficient outings he had in seven of 11 starts last season.

Eflin, 23, underwent two knee surgeries late last season to relieve a chronic condition he's had since he was 10 years old. The condition ended his 2016 after 11 starts.

Eflin's numbers as a rookie looked worse than his actual performance -- 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA. He pitched two complete games with one shutout, and in seven starts from June 19 through July 22, he averaged nearly seven innings per start and posted a 2.08 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. 

Four awful performances -- his MLB debut in Toronto and his final three starts before going on the shelf -- skewed the stats somewhat, though it was an also an indication of what can happen when Eflin isn't hitting spots perfectly. He doesn't miss many bats so he relies on soft contact and groundballs to get him through.

Eflin had just a 5.7 percent swinging strike rate as a rookie, well below the league average of 10.1 percent. To succeed at this level he's going to need to live low in the zone with his four-seam fastball and sinker. His groundball rate last season was 36.2 percent, a pretty average number for a sinkerballer.

Eflin was pretty much four-seam, two-seam, slider as a rookie, throwing one of those three pitches 89 percent of the time. He occasionally mixed in a curveball and a changeup to lefties. His fastball and sinker are in the 92 to 94 mph range.

Eflin faced the Mets once last year and had a quality start in a 5-0 Phillies loss, allowing three runs over six innings. Curtis Granderson took him deep, and the Phils had just one hit that afternoon against a lights-out Jacob deGrom.

2. Another look at Wheeler
The Phillies face Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler for the second time in six nights. They lost to him last Wednesday, putting up five zeroes before chasing him in the sixth inning.

Wheeler, who was making just his second start since 2014 after missing two years with Tommy John surgery and a few setbacks, loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth and was lifted after 85 pitches. Hansel Robles came in and gave up a grand slam to Maikel Franco, uglying Wheeler's line.

In truth, the Phillies' offense looked meager against Wheeler for most of the night. He was throwing heat, averaging 95 mph with his fastball and sinker and maxing out at 97.4 mph. And every offspeed pitch put in play against him -- three changeups, three sliders and three curveballs -- was an out.

The Phillies have seen little of Wheeler and Cesar Hernandez is the only player with multiple hits against him. Hernandez is 3 for 5, and he saw 14 pitches in three at-bats against Wheeler last week so he definitely knows what he's up against.

3. Nothin' but the East
We've gone over the Phillies' tough start to the season but the Mets' April schedule is even stranger. The Mets' first 32 games of 2017 are all against division opponents. They don't play a team outside the NL East until May 8 when they host the Giants.

When this stretch comes to an end, the Mets will have played 10 games against the Braves, 10 against the Marlins and six against the Phillies and Nationals.

That means just 44 of the Mets' final 130 games -- almost exactly one-third -- will be against division opponents.

The Mets were 40-36 against the NL East last season and that was basically the difference between them and the Nationals, who went 51-25 against the East and won the division by eight games.

4. Since we saw them last ...
The Mets dropped three in a row at Marlins Park this week, their boom-bust offense hitting a low point Sunday when they didn't have a hit through seven innings. They finished 5 for 32 with five singles against five Marlins pitchers.

Jay Bruce has cooled off since the Phillies series, and Granderson and Jose Reyes still aren't hitting. Granderson is at .174 and is still without a homer, while Reyes is 4 for 46 (.087) with one extra-base hit and 13 strikeouts.

5. This and that
• Mets closer Jeurys Familia is eligible to return on Thursday from a 15-game suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy.

Familia makes the Mets' bullpen a whole lot better. He had a 2.20 ERA with 94 saves and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings the last two seasons.

Without him, the Phillies will have their chances in the ninth inning against the eminently hittable Addison Reed, king of the straight 92 mph fastball.

• Franco has a .158 batting average on balls in play. It's very early in the season and it will normalize closer to his .271 career mark, but it explains some of his poor performance. Some, not all -- Franco's April has been a mix of bad luck and a bad approach at times. He's yet to find the kind of multi-week consistency that would make him a true difference-maker in the middle of an order.

• Cesar Hernandez since 2016: .299 batting average, .373 on-base percentage in 678 plate appearances. Only four other players in the National League have that high a batting average and OBP since last opening day: Joey Votto, D.J. LeMahieu, Freddie Freeman and Daniel Murphy.

• The Mets have won 42 of the 60 meetings between these teams since 2014 and the dominance isn't limited to one venue. The Phillies are 9-19 during that span at Citi Field and 9-23 against them at Citizens Bank Park.

Phillies don't get enough from Zach Eflin, offense as winning streak ends in loss to Padres

Phillies don't get enough from Zach Eflin, offense as winning streak ends in loss to Padres

The Phillies’ winning streak was stopped at four games in a 5-3 loss to the San Diego Padres at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night. The Phillies have not won five straight games all season.

Right-hander Zach Eflin returned to the rotation and could not hold a 3-0 lead. He twice was one strike away from getting out of the fourth inning, but allowed a pair of hits after being up 0-2 in the count and that led to three San Diego runs, and the Padres pulled ahead with a couple of runs against ineffective Nick Pivetta in the fifth.

The Phillies took a 2-0 lead in the second on doubles by Jean Segura and Scott Kingery and a single by Eflin. Smokin’ hot J.T. Realmuto homered in the third. But the Phils did not score after that as San Diego right-hander Dinelson Lamet delivered six innings of three-run ball.

The loss dropped the Phillies to a game out of the second wild-card spot in the National League. The Phils are 64-59.

Eflin’s night

Eflin was the Phillies’ most consistent starter over the first two months of the season and their least consistent in July. That led to his being moved to the bullpen for three weeks.

Jake Arrieta’s season-ending elbow injury forced the Phillies to put Eflin back in the rotation and he did not fare all that well in his first start since July 27.

Eflin pitched scoreless ball for the first three innings and enjoyed a 3-0 lead but could not get out of the fourth inning and allowed three runs.

Trouble putting hitters away

All of the Padres’ runs in the third inning came with two outs. Eflin had Lamet, the opposing pitcher, down 0-2 in the count and could not put him away. Lamet kept the inning alive with a full-count single on a four-seam fastball. Eflin then had Manuel Margot, 0-2, and gave up an RBI single. He then gave up a two-run double to Josh Naylor on a 2-2 four-seamer. Eflin had been ahead in that count, 1-2, but could not put Naylor away.

Second time not a charm

It was not surprising to see Eflin open with three scoreless frames. Entering the game, he’d held opposing hitters to a .213 batting average the first time through the order. Opponents had been hitting .363 the second time through. Clearly, opposing hitters are getting better looks at Eflin as the game goes on. Eflin has not pitched more than four innings in four of his last five starts. He hit a wall in the fourth inning on July 20 in Pittsburgh and left that game after four innings with “heavy legs.” Eflin is going to have to figure out a way to build more endurance over the winter. In the meantime, he needs to pitch deeper into games the remainder of this season because the Phils are thin on starting pitching and innings in their rotation and he has too much talent to be such a middling starter.

Different approach

Eflin threw 73 pitches, including 27 sinkers. That 37 percent mark was his highest of the season. He’d really de-emphasized the pitch recently, but featured it often in this one and had some success with it in the first three innings.

Eflin allowed seven hits in 3 2/3 innings only got one swing and miss in 73 pitches.

Offense slows down

After 35 hits and 26 runs in the previous three games, all with Charlie Manuel in the dugout as hitting coach, the Phils were held to just six hits.

Rhys Hoskins returned to the starting lineup -- he did not start Friday because of a sore hand – and went 0 for 3. He is 6 for 57 (.105) in his last 17 games.

Bryce Harper proved human by going 0 for 4 with two strikeouts.

Realmuto stayed hot. He has eight homers and 21 RBIs in his last 22 games. 

Up next

The two teams meet again in the series finale Sunday afternoon. Jason Vargas (6-6, 4.03) opposes Joey Lucchesi (7-7, 4.25) in a matchup of lefties.

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Roman Quinn sidelined again, high-priced David Robertson out for next season

Roman Quinn sidelined again, high-priced David Robertson out for next season

The injured list is Roman Quinn’s unfortunate home away from home. And now, the 26-year-old outfielder is back there for the third time this season.

Quinn suffered a strained right groin muscle in the ninth inning of Friday night’s game at Citizens Bank Park. It is a similar injury to the one that forced him to spend a month on the IL earlier this season, though not as severe.

The injury comes at a time when Quinn’s exciting talents seemed to be coming together. He was hitting .368 with a 1.139 OPS in 13 games in August. He had a double, a triple, three homers and was 4 for 4 in stolen base attempts.

There is probably enough time left in the season for Quinn to make it back, but it’s safe to say he’ll miss at least a couple of weeks and that's a loss to the Phillies' lineup.

Injuries have been a huge and frustrating issue for the likable switch-hitter who was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2011 out of the Florida panhandle town of Port St. Joe.

Quinn has missed significant time in his minor- and major-league career with a torn quadriceps, a torn Achilles tendon, a strained elbow ligament, a torn ligament in his middle finger, a concussion and a broken toe. He missed the start of this season while recovering from an oblique strain suffered in spring training then went down with a groin injury in May.

With Quinn out, the Phillies will likely turn to Adam Haseley more often in center field.

The Phillies filled Quinn’s roster spot by adding reliever Jared Hughes. He was picked up off waivers from Cincinnati earlier in the week.

There was more injury news Saturday. As expected, Jake Arrieta will have season-ending surgery to clean up a bone spur in his elbow (see story). The surgery will happen before the end of the month and he’ll have plenty of time to get ready for spring training. Arrieta is under contract for $20 million next season.

David Robertson will not be ready for spring training. In fact, he probably will not pitch next season. The team said he had Tommy John surgery on Thursday. That typically requires a recovery of at least 14 months. 

Robertson, 34, signed a two-year, $23 million deal with the Phillies in December. He ended up pitching just 6 2/3 innings over seven appearances before landing on the IL with a sore elbow in April.

The Phillies have sunk some serious money into veteran relievers and gotten little in return because of injuries. Pat Neshek, 38, signed a two-year, $16.25 million contract before the 2018 season. He pitched in just 30 games last season and 20 this season. He has only pitched once since May 23 and likely will not pitch again for the Phillies. Tommy Hunter, 33, signed a two-year, $19 million deal before the 2018 season. He pitched in 65 games last season but just five this season because of an elbow injury that required surgery.

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