Phillies

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

BOX SCORE

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."

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Phillies look to Red Sox for their new athletic trainer Paul Buchheit

Phillies look to Red Sox for their new athletic trainer Paul Buchheit

SAN DIEGO — Nothing official from the Phillies yet, but the team has apparently hired a new head athletic trainer.

According to multiple baseball sources, the Phils have hired Paul Buchheit for the position. Buchheit was most recently an assistant athletic trainer on the staff of the Boston Red Sox.

Buchheit replaces Scott Sheridan, who became the Phillies’ head athletic trainer in October 2006. Sheridan’s contract was not renewed after last season. General manager Matt Klentak declined to talk about specific reasons for the change last month.

Sheridan served on the National League’s athletic training staff for the All-Star Game in July. He was instrumental in helping Chase Utley continue his career after the second baseman developed serious knee issues earlier this decade (see story).

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Phillies officials head to winter meetings looking for an infield bat

Phillies officials head to winter meetings looking for an infield bat

SAN DIEGO — Baseball’s winter meetings are back in this seaside Southern California city for the first time in five years.

The San Diego meetings of 2014 were watershed times for the Phillies as the club traded its iconic shortstop and all-time hits leader, Jimmy Rollins, to the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

The deal brought the Phillies a pair of young pitchers, including Zach Eflin, and signaled the start of a rebuild as club officials conceded that the window of contention that had brought the Phillies five NL East titles and a World Series championship from 2007-2011 had officially closed.

Now, Phillies officials find themselves back in San Diego at another important time in franchise history. The rebuild ended when the team started lavishing big money on Jake Arrieta, Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and giving up valuable prospects for J.T. Realmuto. Still missing, however, is a winning season. The Phils have not had one of those since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs. Ownership attached huge importance to the coming 2020 season when it pushed to have Gabe Kapler removed as manager after just two seasons in October and general manager Matt Klentak doubled down when he announced proven winner Joe Girardi as the new skipper and punctuated the announcement by saying, “No questions asked, it’s time to win right now.”

The urgency to win now showed last week when the club spent $118 million to sign starting pitcher Zack Wheeler. The hard-throwing right-hander has dealt with injury and inconsistency in his career, but his huge potential, coupled with the team’s acute need for pitching, made this a risk the Phils had to take. The Wheeler signing is expected to be announced as official as soon as Monday at the winter meetings.

So, what else will the team look to accomplish this week in San Diego?

Well, with Wheeler in the fold, the Phils have now prioritized adding an infield bat. That became imperative when the club cut ties with second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco last week.

The Phils’ ideal scenario would be to acquire a shortstop such as free agent Didi Gregorius. In that case, Jean Segura, whose dwindling range was a concern at shortstop last season, could move to second base and Scott Kingery could play third base. There could also be a scenario where Segura played third and Kingery second. The Phils had probed the market for third basemen and, according to sources, had seriously pursued Mike Moustakas before he signed with Cincinnati. The Phils are still monitoring the markets for free-agent third basemen Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, but don’t get too excited because they appear to be more interested bystanders than active pursuers. Signing a shortstop like Gregorius, who just so happens to be a favorite of Girardi, would keep third base in play for the eventual arrival of prospect Alec Bohm, who will start the 2020 season in Triple A. Some rival evaluators do not believe that Bohm can survive defensively at third base in the majors — they see him as more of a first baseman — but Phillies officials remain convinced that he can do it. Time will tell.

There is competition for Gregorius. If the Phillies don't sign him, they look at Starlin Castro, Todd Frazier or Brock Holt as short-term fits at third base or other infield spots.

Even with Wheeler on board, the Phillies will continue to look for more pitching, though any further additions will probably come from the third and fourth tiers of the market. The Phils are speeding toward the $208 million luxury tax threshold and Wheeler, by all indications, will be their top wintertime expenditure. By most payroll estimates, the Phils are about $19 million under the tax, and that’s before adding an infielder, bullpen help and some rotation depth behind Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Arrieta and Eflin. Managing partner John Middleton is on record as saying he would not go over the tax for a marginal upgrade but would be open to it if the team was “fighting for a World Series,” and the upgrades were difference-makers like “Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.”

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