Zach Eflin will always hold the distinction of being the first acquisition of the Phillies’ rebuild that commenced after the 2014 season. When he arrived in the organization — in a trade for Jimmy Rollins — he was billed, and he would go on to confirm this, as a sinker-baller who pitched to contact and relied on his defense.
That style of pitching has merit, but it’s really not how the front office that took over after Eflin arrived wants to build its pitching staff. The club wants guys who miss bats, get swing and misses and strike people out.
Eflin was that guy Monday night and it wasn’t by accident. The 6-6 right-hander has added 20 pounds of muscle — he’s up to 220 — and a couple of ticks to his fastball in the last year. That has given him the confidence to attack hitters with a riding, four-seam fastball more than he used to. That style of pitching helped him strike out a career-high nine batters in 6 2/3 innings in the Phillies’ 11-0 win over the San Francisco Giants (see first take). Ten of the Phillies' runs came on homers by Odubel Herrera (two), Cesar Hernandez and Carlos Santana.
Eflin cooled off a lineup that had scored 24 runs in a three-game, weekend sweep of the Braves and had averaged 5.63 runs per game since April 20, third most in the majors over that span. He did it by throwing 55 four-seam fastballs. The pitch averaged 94.2 miles per hour and topped out at 96.9 mph. That’s power.
Eflin has made two starts since coming up from Triple A Lehigh Valley and allowed just seven hits in 13 2/3 innings. He gave up over 10 hits per nine innings and struck out just 4.7 batters per nine in 22 starts over his first two seasons in the majors.
With his newfound power, Eflin is a pitcher in transition. He threw a two-seamer 45 percent of the time and a four-seamer 23 percent of the time last season. On Monday night, he threw just 16 two-seam, sinking fastballs.
“I think I'm throwing the four-seamer a little more,” he said. “I just seem to have such better life with it. Now that I'm using my legs, I'm really getting extension.”
More leg strength — after double knee surgery in 2016 — has given Eflin better pop on his fastball and that has allowed him to be more aggressive. At 24, he seems to be pitching with the mindset of a guy determined to finally show people he belongs.
“There's games in the past where I kind of just nibbled the corners or not really thrown pitches aggressively,” he said. “It's changing. I have to do that every pitch. My stuff plays up a lot more now that I am aggressive with every pitch. I've kind of taken it that way.”
Manager Gabe Kapler would not directly acknowledge that Eflin is transitioning to more of a power pitcher, but he liked the 14 swing and misses that Eflin got, six on four-seamers.
“There were swings and misses on fastballs in the zone by some really good hitters and those were the ones that were really standing out to us,” Kapler said. “We’ve been talking a lot about will Zach be able to miss enough bats to be really, really effective at this level? Tonight, he was able to do just that. And if you can do it once, you can do it over and over. His stuff might just be that good. That was really exciting.”