WASHINGTON — With so much attention on Bryce Harper and his return to the city in which he played for seven seasons, it was easy to overlook a most important Phillies’ development Tuesday night:
Zach Eflin, one of those back-end of the starting rotation pitchers that could be crucial to the team’s success this season, pitched five brilliant innings in his season debut, helping the Phillies to a 8-2 win over the Washington Nationals.
And, oh yeah, Harper had another big game with a double, an RBI single and a two-run homer. He has homered in three straight games.
As a team, the Phillies have 10 homers in four games. They have scored 31 runs, 18 via the long ball.
The Phillies are baseball’s only unbeaten team. They are off to their first 4-0 start since 1915. They lost to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series that year.
• Maikel Franco continued to swing a power bat from the No. 8 spot in the batting order. He belted his third homer in four games with two outs in the second. The Nats walked Franco intentionally in his next three plate appearances.
• The Nationals opened the fifth inning with a pair of singles against Eflin in a two-run game. The right-hander then struck out two of the next three batters (his eighth and ninth of the game) to get out of the inning.
• Washington ace and Phillies killer Max Scherzer was only able to record one 1-2-3 inning over five innings of work. Phillies hitters drove his pitch count to 96 and got him out of the game early. Scherzer left trailing, 2-0. The Phils scored four against the Nats’ bullpen in the sixth to take a commanding lead. The rally was highlighted by Jean Segura’s impossible-to-defend three-run double with two outs. Odubel Herrera was one of the runners on base. He had three doubles.
The Phillies need Eflin to emerge this season. He has the talent and the experience to do it. Six days before his 25th birthday, he enjoyed a confidence-building start that included a career-high nine strikeouts in five innings. (He was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the sixth.) Eflin gave up just three hits and walked one. It was definitely an outing to feel good about and to build on.
Franco became the first Phillie since Ryan Howard in 2007 to receive three intentional walks in a game. It happened to Howard three times in his career. Before that, the last Phillie to receive three intentional walks in a game was Garry Maddox in 1978.
Franco was on base five times. His on-base percentage in four games is .706 (see story).
Sights and sounds
Harper was booed lustily all night long — during introductions, when he stepped out of the dugout to head to the on-deck circle in the first inning, when he batted and when he ran to his position in right field (see story). Fans did cheer loudly every time he swung and missed at a pitch and they took it to another level when he struck out in his first two at-bats.
Harper doubled and delivered an RBI single in his next two at-bats. Phillies fans in the house chanted “MVP! … MVP!” after his RBI hit in the sixth. Moments later, they chanted “We got Harper! … We got Harper!”
The “We got Harper!” chants got even louder, completely drowning out Nats fans, when he clubbed his two-run homer in the eighth. The homer was a bomb that reached the second deck in right field (see story).
Reliever Tommy Hunter, on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right elbow/forearm, was examined by team physicians in Philadelphia on Monday. There was no immediate update on the results of the exam.
Hunter first experienced soreness in the area early in spring training. Clearly, he will not return to active duty any time soon.
“I think it's more that he's still felt some soreness,” said manager Gabe Kapler, explaining Hunter’s trip from Clearwater to Philadelphia. “We want to make sure that we don't miss anything. Part of that is just doing a series of tests.”
Meanwhile, outfielder Roman Quinn, who was sidelined for much of camp with an oblique strain, continues to get at-bats in Clearwater. He could ramp-up his preparation in games when the Single A Clearwater club opens its season Thursday night. Quinn could be back sometime this month, forcing the Phils to make a decision on Aaron Altherr or Nick Williams. Altherr is out of minor-league options so the Phils would risk losing him if they sent him to the minors. Williams can be sent to the minors but his lefty bat is valuable off the bench and in spots starts. These things usually have a way of working themselves out.
The two-game series wraps up on Wednesday afternoon at 1 p.m. Aaron Nola will pitch against Anibal Sanchez.
Nola will be pitching on five days’ rest. He is 23-7 with a 2.29 ERA in 43 career starts on five days’ rest. He is 17-18 with a 4.73 ERA in 41 starts on the customary four days’ rest.
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