New York Yankees

Phillies pitching staff features a June dud and a June stud and their identities might surprise you

Phillies pitching staff features a June dud and a June stud and their identities might surprise you

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One pitcher entered this season with two no-hitters and a Cy Young Award in his trophy case.

The other entered this season in the minor leagues.

One pitcher is making $30 million this season, the highest one-year salary ever for a Philadelphia athlete.

The other is making $548,500, just over the major-league minimum of $545,000.

One pitcher went 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA in five starts in June.

The other went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts in June.

The first pitcher’s name is Jake Arrieta.

The second pitcher’s name is Zach Eflin.

Eflin became the first Phillies pitcher to win five games in a month since Cole Hamels in May 2012 when he pitched seven shutout innings in leading a 3-0 win over the New York Yankees at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see first take).

There were so many impressive elements to Eflin’s month. For one, he did not allow a home run in 30 2/3 innings, which makes him the first Phillies pitcher since Roy Halladay in April 2012 to pitch at least 30 innings in a month and not allow a homer. He walked just six batters and struck out 28 in his five June starts.

This might be Eflin’s most important June feat: Four of his five wins came after Phillies’ losses. Wednesday night’s gem stopped a three-game losing streak and prevented the Phillies from being swept by the powerhouse Yankees in a three-game series. The Phils are 42-36 on the season and a hold-their-own 11-13 in June with three games remaining in the month.

The Yankees, who lead the majors in homers and OPS, had outscored the Phillies, 10-2, in the first two games.

Eflin, who turned 24 in April, held them to four singles and two walks while striking out six and throwing just 92 pitches in his seven innings of work. Seranthony Dominguez got the final six outs.

“Eflin was just outstanding,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I leaned over and whispered to (bench coach) Rob Thomson in the middle of the game that, 'Nothing rattles him. It doesn't matter who the hitter is.'

“The guy was dominant all the way through June against some of baseball's best teams. And then tonight, it was just kind of the cherry on top as he went through a Yankees’ lineup that is arguably in the top five in baseball. So he did a tremendous job.”

The Phillies’ offense was hardly potent. It did all its scoring in one inning. But that scoring was enough — a three-run home run by Rhys Hoskins in the second inning. Hoskins has 12 homers on the season and 11 have given the Phillies a lead (see story).

Hoskins was happy to get the game’s biggest hit after going 0 for 8 with four strikeouts in the first two games.

But the first words out of his mouth after the win were in recognition of Eflin.

“He was huge,” Hoskins said. “We needed that. We needed someone to step up. He was big. He gave us seven strong innings and a big win.”

Eflin was the first piece added when the Phillies embarked on their rebuild after the 2014 season, the primary return in the trade that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. When Eflin arrived, he was a sinker-baller who pitched to contact and relied on his defense. Nearly four years later, he’s added strength to his 6-6 frame, and he’s pitching on healthy legs after surgery to repair tendinitis in both knees. All of this has added velocity to his fastball. He still throws a sinking fastball, but he’s become more reliant on a power, four-seam fastball. He’s no longer a pitch-to-contact guy. He’s getting the swings and misses that Phillies management wants to see in its starters. He's throwing the ball by hitters.

He’s a different pitcher than the one the Phillies traded for.

“Absolutely,” Eflin said. “I came over here with a sinker and a changeup. Now I feel like I have a better arsenal. I’ve been a lot more impressed with my four-seam fastball. Being able to do that has really helped me a lot. It’s kind of cool to think you were one pitcher and then all of a sudden you’re a different pitcher. Being able to make that transition has been awesome.”

The transformation can be seen in the numbers. Eflin struck out just 4.7 batters per nine innings over 22 big-league starts in 2016 and 2017. This season, he is striking out more than nine batters per nine innings.

Pitching coach Rick Kranitz believes Eflin’s transformation has been part physical, part mental, part power on the fastball and part mindset driven by confidence.

“I think he’s comfortable in his own skin in general and he’s getting after it,” Kranitz said. “Guys don’t all of a sudden start getting swings and misses out of nowhere. He’s getting them because he’s trying to get guys to swing and miss.

“Zach, to me, was always very conservative throwing the baseball. Now, he’s not keeping anything in the tank. He’s pushing. Right from the get-go, he’s on the gas pedal. It’s a mindset. There’s a huge difference. What he did this month is as good as it gets.”

And beating the Yankees?

"It's pretty cool, very cool," Eflin said. "As a kid you dream of facing the Yankees, let alone play in the big leagues. To face the Yankees and go seven scoreless was awesome."

More on the Phillies

Stellar start from Zach Eflin, Rhys Hoskins bomb help Phillies blank Yankees

Stellar start from Zach Eflin, Rhys Hoskins bomb help Phillies blank Yankees

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The Phillies needed a bounce-back game Wednesday night and so did Rhys Hoskins.

They both got one.

The Phillies, behind Hoskins’ power bat and Zach Eflin’s seven shutout innings, broke a three-game losing streak with a 3-0 win over the New York Yankees at Citizens Bank Park. The victory allowed the Phils to salvage a game in the series after losing the first two by a combined score of 10-2.

Eflin won his fifth straight start.

The Phillies’ offense often goes as Hoskins goes. He went 0 for 8 with four strikeouts in the first two games of the series. The Phils had just nine hits and were 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position in those games.

The Phils’ problems with runners in scoring position continued as they left the bases loaded after a pair of strikeouts in the first inning Wednesday night.

But Hoskins broke the trend in the second inning. He took advantage of a two-out walk to Cesar Hernandez and clubbed a three-run homer off Luis Cessa on a 1-2 breaking ball. The homer was Hoskins’ 12th of the season and it went to the opposite field.

Eleven of Hoskins’ homers this season have given the Phillies a lead.

Hoskins’ latest homer also carried some franchise significance. It was the 30th homer of the 25-year-old slugger’s career and it came in his 119th game. No one in franchise history has reached 30 homers faster (see story). Hall of Famer Chuck Klein did it in 132 games. Ryan Howard did it in 134.

While Hoskins’ homer was to be celebrated, it was somewhat troubling that it represented the extent of the Phillies’ scoring. The Phils had trouble sustaining and finished 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position. They were twice victimized by excellent defensive plays by the Yankees’ outfield.

Eflin and the bullpen made the team’s three runs stand up. Eflin gave up just four singles and walked two. He struck out six. The Yankees, who lead baseball in OPS and home runs, rested Aaron Judge, but that did not diminish Eflin’s work. He threw just 92 pitches before manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen kill shot, Seranthony Dominguez, for a six-out save.

Eflin, who turned 24 in April, completed a sensational month of June. He went 5-0 and allowed just six earned runs in 30 2/3 innings for a 1.76 ERA (see story). The knock on Eflin has been that he doesn’t miss enough bats. But since adding strength to his legs and velocity to his fastball, he has been missing more bats. For the month, he gave up 24 hits, walked six and struck out 28. He did not give up a home run.

Notes
Pat Neshek (shoulder, forearm) will make another minor-league rehab start on Friday.

Luis Garcia (wrist) will throw in the bullpen Friday and could be ready to go on Sunday.

More on the Phillies

The Yankees fan invasion of CBP was very unpleasant for Phillies fans

The Yankees fan invasion of CBP was very unpleasant for Phillies fans

It felt good to boo.

And I’m not talking about Rhys Hoskins. I’m talking about the throngs of New York Yankees fans who took over Citizens Bank Park for the second night in a row on Tuesday.

It felt good to boo the Yankee fans. And there were plenty of opportunities on Tuesday night.

I’ve been going to games regularly at CBP since it opened in 2004 and last night was the most opposing team’s fans I’ve ever seen in our ball park.

It’s an unfortunate state of things for Phillies fans. Our team is still turning course towards consistently winning ways and lacks the personality and star power of a Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins. Not to mention many Philly sports fans are still in debt from all of the money they spent on the Super Bowl and the subsequent championship gear (The Eagles won Super Bowl 52). The Yankees are the best team in baseball and are just as likely to have fans in Broomall as the Bronx. They sent out one of the best pitchers in the game last night.

The fact that there were tons of Yankees fans at our ball park wasn’t surprising to me. But it sure was unpleasant.

Aaron Hicks homered in the first at bat of the game and the Yankees chants started. They didn’t stop the rest of the night.

On the bright side, they were met with plenty of boos from the Philly faithful — myself included.

“I’m pretty sure we singlehandedly shut that Yankees chant down with our boos,” I said to my wife at one point. She agreed. We did our small part.

While it was undoubtedly very unpleasant to have so many opposing fans cheer as their team dominated ours to the tune of a 6-0 win, there was something pleasurable in fighting back.

The ball park had life in it last night. There was an undeniable energy in the building, albeit one favoring the dark side.

While the Phillies on the field may not have acquitted themselves well, I was proud of the way the Philly fans responded to the invasion. I didn’t see a single confrontation other than sportsmanlike booing and banter.

And you know who brought his A-game? The Phillie Phanatic.

At one point, after a particularly loud Yankees chant, the Phanatic bent over and repeatedly banged his ear on a seat in the field level. He didn’t want to hear that garbage either.

Sadly, I wrote a note in my phone about that moment being the highlight of the night.

But then the Phanatic used his jersey to block the view of some Yankees fans and that was even better. When you're losing, you take the small wins where you can.