Confidence is baseball’s magic potion and teams these days spend big money on sports psychologists who, among other things, try to help players brew that important intangible. But sometimes there’s nothing scientific about the building of a player’s confidence. Sometimes it just takes the boss showing a little faith in the guy.
Gabe Kapler did more than preside over the Phillies’ sixth win in eight games on Sunday. He made an important investment in an important pitcher who seems primed for a big payoff this season.
Taking the mound the day before his 25th birthday, Zach Eflin backboned a 2-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins with seven innings of one-run ball. He got help, lots of it, particularly from Rhys Hoskins, who clubbed a go-ahead, two-run homer in the sixth, left fielder Andrew McCutchen, who gunned down a run at the plate, and relievers David Robertson, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris, who combined for six outs to protect a one-run lead.
Eflin acknowledged that he did not do it alone.
“McCutchen, Hoskins, the bullpen — they deserve everything in this game,” he said.
The hat tip was not surprising because Eflin is a class guy. But his impact on the win was also huge because he’s the guy who kept the Phillies in the game on a day when they faced a tough arm in Jose Berrios and produced only four hits.
Eflin’s day actually did not start well as Max Kepler hit the fourth pitch of the day into the seats. After that, Eflin pitched shutout ball the rest of the day.
The right-hander was nearly lifted for a pinch-hitter in the fifth. He got a reprieve and struck out two batters in the sixth, including Jonathan Schoop, the third out, on a 95-mph fastball on his 95th pitch of the day.
It seemed plausible that Eflin’s day would have been over at that point. But Kapler sent him out for the seventh, with the lead, and Eflin responded with a 1-2-3 inning on 10 pitches.
Kapler came into the game wanting to rest Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez so he was looking for a little extra from Eflin. But Eflin wouldn’t have gotten that extra inning if he hadn’t been effective and earned the manager’s confidence.
“He earned the opportunity to go back out there,” Kapler said. “He was so effective, I thought it was the right time to give him that rope.
“Each time we give somebody an opportunity to do a little bit more than they did the last time out, we see it as an investment. If they come through that with flying colors, like Zach did, it just creates a whole bunch more confidence in the dugout that the next time he can go to that 105, 110, 115 mark and do so successfully.”
Eflin was pumped that the boss believed in him.
“It was huge,” he said. “Because that doesn’t happen a lot with me. Typically when I’m at 90-plus pitches through six innings, they pull me. It was really nice to see that confidence that Gabe had in me and I had in myself.”
The Phillies’ rebuild started with Eflin when he was acquired in the trade that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers in December 2014. Eflin has had some very good moments in a Phillies uniform, particularly last June when he went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts. He’s got the talent to be a very good major-league starter. Now, he just needs the consistency. It might be coming. Through two starts in the young season, he’s been the Phillies’ best pitcher. He has given up just nine hits and one run over 12 innings. He has walked one and struck out 14.
If these Phillies are going to go where they’d like to, Eflin needs to keep delivering.
The manager has faith in him.
“If he’s pitching like he’s pitching right now, which is as good as anybody in either league, then it would mean that we have three potential Cy Young award winners,” said Kapler, referring also to Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.
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