Phillies

What's up with Zach Eflin and is it wise for the Phillies to keep pitching him?

What's up with Zach Eflin and is it wise for the Phillies to keep pitching him?

PITTSBURGH — The state of the Phillies’ starting pitching continues to get more and more suspect with each passing day.

As if it isn’t bad enough that Jake Arrieta has a painful bone spur in his right elbow and isn’t sure he can make it through the season, or that Nick Pivetta has been demoted to the bullpen to make room for a guy (Drew Smyly) who had an 8.42 ERA before being released by Texas earlier this season, or that Vince Velasquez is allergic to the middle innings, now Zach Eflin has a heavy body.

That’s a way of life for middle-aged sports writers, but it doesn’t sound so good for a 6-foot-6, 25-year-old pitcher who, at least outwardly, appears to be in good physical condition.

“It’s felt heavy for a little bit, but everybody feels heavy, you know,” Eflin said after pitching poorly in a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night. “It’s something you go through during a season.”

Really?

Explain.

Are we talking fatigue? Are we talking something more serious, like a health issue?

“There’s really no explanation for it,” Eflin said. “You know sometimes you feel like you hit a brick wall, sometimes you wake up, you don’t feel great. Right now it’s one of those things where I’m kind of searching for what’s best for me, what’s going to work for me. It’s nothing that prevents me from throwing a baseball or anything, it’s just making adjustments to my routine or the way I prep, but in no way, shape or form does it affect me throwing the baseball.”

Two starts previous in Atlanta, Eflin admitted that a 13-pitch showdown with Ronald Acuna Jr. took a physical toll on him. Had that at-bat come in the eighth inning, it would have been completely understandable. But the at-bat came in the first inning.

This is no joke.

Is there a health concern here?

“It has nothing to do with health,” said Eflin, who has an ERA over 9.00 in his last five starts.

Eflin was not the reason the Phillies lost this game. Sure, he gave up three runs in the third inning, but lack of offense was the culprit in this one. The Phils were out-hit, 13-3. Their only run was unearned. They struck out 11 times and were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. Pittsburgh starter Joe Musgrove allowed just two hits and struck out eight in six innings.

“I don’t think we swung the bats the way that we’re capable of swinging the bats,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Musgrove did a pretty good job of keeping us off balance.”

Kapler disclosed that Eflin’s body felt heavy as he talked about the pitcher’s performance after the game.

“Zach’s body is feeling a little bit heavy right now and his stuff is just getting a little bit lighter than it was earlier in the season.” Kapler said. “I think that’s something we have to pay attention to and get his body to feel energetic and moving towards the plate with intensity all the way through his outing.”

Including his work at Triple A, Eflin pitched a career-high 148 innings last season. He has pitched 110 innings in 19 starts, hardly an exhausting workload, this season.

What gives?

“It could be a number of things,” Kapler said. “It could be mechanics, sometimes. It could be some fatigue, sometimes. But that’s something I want to dig into with Zach and our training staff and give him the best chance to have success by having that conversation.”

It would not be surprising if that conversation included discussing the possibility of going on the injured list. Something seems to be going on with Eflin and you have to wonder if it would be wise, from a team in a playoff race to a personal-health standpoint, to send him back to the mound for his next turn.

Suddenly the state of the Phillies' starting pitching is even more tenuous than it was before.

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Watch Lenny Dykstra attack Bagel Boss Guy at cheesesteak shop in chaotic and hilarious fashion

Watch Lenny Dykstra attack Bagel Boss Guy at cheesesteak shop in chaotic and hilarious fashion

You don't really need a lot of info about the above video to enjoy its pure insanity.

It features former MLB All-Star Lenny Dykstra and Chris Morgan, aka Bagel Boss Guy. The former Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets outfielder is fighting the guy known for being rude in a bagel shop and going viral. The boxing bout is set in Atlantic City in September and they were promoting it today at Tony Luke's cheesesteak shop in South Philly.

Both of them said mean stuff. But the parts that succeeded in grabbing our attention enough to post a video about it were Lenny taking a swipe at Bagel Guy and a bottle being thrown in return.

But wait for it ... it gets better. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, Lenny takes a running dive across a table at Morgan. It's rather impressive. And hilarious.

Perhaps the best part about the whole thing: Lenny is wearing a shirt that simply says "GET PAID" on the back.

Indeed. Get paid, Lenny.

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2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

The 2018 Red Sox went wire to wire and won the World Series. The 2019 Red Sox have a 1.8 percent chance to make the playoffs because of how brutal their starting rotation has been. 

A rotation that the Phillies and any other team in need of several starting pitchers should take note of.

The Red Sox allocated more than $90 million to their starting pitchers this season, the most in baseball in terms of total dollars and percentage of payroll dedicated to starting pitchers (40 percent).

They extended Chris Sale in March (five years, $145 million), just before his worst major-league season which is already over because of an elbow injury. Sale's deal kicks in next year, and the Red Sox won't admit it but they're almost certainly regretting it already.

They paid Nate Eovaldi $68 million this past offseason and have gotten nothing in return. Eovaldi, who received that contract only because of 22 dominant innings in the 2018 postseason, has been a disaster. Injuries have limited him to just 36⅓ innings and he has struggled as a starter and reliever to the tune of a 6.69 ERA.

Rick Porcello, in the last of a four-year, $82.5 million contract, won the Cy Young award in the first year of that deal and has been bad ever since. His ERA is 5.49 this season and is three percent below league-average the last three years. 

Boston doesn't win the 2018 World Series without David Price. But what if Price's contract, which pays him $96 million the next three seasons, along with the rest of these deals prevent the Red Sox from retaining Mookie Betts? Betts will want more money than Bryce Harper and deserves it. That situation will be interesting to monitor.

Going out and buying a rotation does not always work, and it almost never works long-term. Think about what happened with Roy Halladay. Two great years the Phillies probably would not trade for anything, then two rough years. Cliff Lee? Three very good years upon his return, then he was MIA the final two seasons.

Good pitchers are certainly worth a lot of money but it has to be the right pitcher and the right contract length. Gerrit Cole, a free agent this winter, could command $200 million and his market will be robust. Teams will be tantalized by his continued improvement and insane strikeout rate, which is the perfect way to combat the juiced ball.

But after Cole, no other pitcher on the free-agent market this winter can really be considered a "safe" bet. Confident in Madison Bumgarner the next four years? Cole Hamels the next two? Will a team have any idea which version of Zack Wheeler, Wade Miley, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi or Alex Wood they are getting?

Not to say the Phillies should avoid the starting pitching market. They cannot. It's not even an option. They need 60 percent of a starting rotation and probably more than that since few teams ever go through 162 games with the same five starters. 

But going out and spending $200 million on Cole, $40 million on Hamels and another $40 million or so on one of the mid-rotation pieces will not guarantee that the Phillies turn into a 95-win team in 2020. 

The Red Sox best starting pitcher this season has been Eduardo Rodriguez, a 26-year-old, cost-controlled lefty they acquired from the Orioles at the 2014 trade deadline for a half-season of Andrew Miller. That's the kind of trade no team in the Orioles' position ever wants to make anymore, because the Rodriguezes of the world, if they pan out, become the most valuable pieces in baseball. Young, cheap arms without wear and tear who can approach 200 quality innings.

The Phillies need to find their Rodriguez — none of Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin or Vince Velasquez turned into one — as much as they need to sign a recognizable name. Splurging on Cole seems unlikely only because the Phillies just committed more than $400 million last offseason and if they sign Cole, it would limit the number of times they can add another superstar during this window.

The Padres, who were just in town, had a couple intriguing arms the Phillies should (and probably will) call about this winter: lefty Joey Lucchesi and righty Dinelson Lamet. San Diego has a lot of young pitching but is in need of offense at positions other than first base, shortstop and third base. 

Pittsburgh's Joe Musgrove is another mid-rotation piece under cost control who could better help a team like the Phillies than the Pirates.

As thin as the Phillies are on pitchers, they must be creative this offseason, not just free-spending.

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