LOS ANGELES — The Phillies weren’t just beaten by Chase Utley and the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday night.
They were manhandled.
The Phillies lost, 9-4, but it seemed a whole lot more one-sided than that as the home team pounded balls all over Dodger Stadium (see Instant Replay).
The Dodgers belted out 11 hits. Seven of them were for extra bases and four of those were homers, including one by Utley in his first game against his old team, and two by 22-year-old rookie Corey Seager.
The Phillies’ 22-year-old entry in this game did not fare as well.
Rookie right-hander Zach Eflin was tagged for seven hits and seven runs in just three innings. Five of the hits were for extra bases, including three homers. Eflin allowed a single, two walks, two doubles, a homer and a sacrifice fly on his way to falling behind, 5-0, in the first inning.
“He left everything out over the middle of the plate,” manager Pete Mackanin said.
Eflin is a sinkerballer who relies on getting groundballs. But in this start, he got just two groundball outs. All three homers he allowed were no-doubters to lefty hitters on elevated sinkers.
Eflin shut out the Pirates on three hits, no walks and six strikeouts on July 22. In three starts since then, he has been torched for 22 hits and 20 runs in 13 innings and his ERA has swelled from 3.40 to 5.54.
Basically, his struggles stem from a lack of command — too many pitches over the middle of the plate, as Mackanin said.
What happened to the command that allowed Eflin to shut out the Pirates?
“I don’t know,” Mackanin said. “When he’s got it, he’s good. When he doesn't have command, he's very hittable.”
Mackanin was asked if he sensed that Eflin’s mechanics were off.
The skipper said no.
But he did offer that the 6-foot-6 pitcher has recently had sore knees.
Eflin admitted to a little soreness, but said it was not the reason for his recent struggles. He said sore knees are something he deals with from time to time, has been for years.
“I’ve kind of always had different knees — kind of gone through it every single season,” Eflin said. “It’s more of a thing where sometimes it’s a little worse, sometimes it’s better than other days. You kind of just wake up and see how you feel. But, no, I don’t think it has affected me the past three outings.
“I’ve been working a little middle and up [in the strike zone] the past three outings. I’ve just got to get over that phase. It could be mechanical. It could be mental. It’s just one of those things where I’ve got to bear down and really execute the pitch. I haven’t been doing that and I’ve got to do a lot better job doing that.”
After good games and bad, Mackanin has never lost sight of the fact that the Phillies are a rebuilding team. As he likes to say, one of the missions of this season is “finding out about players.” In other words, who fits into the future and who does not. Sometimes you find out more about a player during the tough times. That’s why Mackanin is eager to see how Eflin bounces back after these three poor starts.
“It has to be tough on anybody,” said Mackanin, referring to Eflin’s three straight poor starts.
“One of the most important aspects of playing in the big leagues is you have to be mentally tough. We're looking for guys who are mentally tough and can overcome their struggles. When a hitter is in a slump, you try to minimize the length of that slump. When a pitcher is not pitching well, we want guys who are going to fight and battle their way out of it. We think he has that kind of makeup.”
Eflin has taken his recent struggles in stride. He has shown no outward signs of being upset. Unlike the great former Phillie Utley, who might sneak out of sight and smash a helmet when things are going bad, Eflin is a very even-tempered guy who smiles regularly.
But he says he has the mental toughness to battle back.
“Of course,” he said. “I’ve remained mentally tough throughout my whole career. I was brought up in a really good way by my father, realizing and looking at and analyzing situations and stuff. I’m pretty good on that. I really don’t get too down on myself. I think about a loving family at home that are all healthy and safe, so I kind of look at it that way. I really kind of thank God more that I’m here and I kind of stay away from being upset or disappointed or being mad.”
Maybe that outlook will help Eflin in his next start against Colorado at home.
It would also help if he got the ball down and rolled some groundballs.