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.”



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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• An interesting Phillies-Yankees trade idea from Jim.

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Phillies obviously better with Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi, but was this enough?

Phillies obviously better with Didi Gregorius, Zack Wheeler and Joe Girardi, but was this enough?

Didi Gregorius is a fun addition for the Phillies. His personality and the joy he plays with will quickly make him a fan favorite. He'll improve the clubhouse dynamic and he'll improve the Phillies' infield defense and lineup.

At one year, what's not to like? It's a one-year, $14 million contract for Gregorius, according to Jim Salisbury, which gives the Phillies an entire year to figure out their infield. Where does Jean Segura fit? What about Scott Kingery? When will Alec Bohm be ready? Can Rhys Hoskins, the most important hitter of them all, turn it around in 2020?

By tying themselves to Didi for only one year, the Phillies can pivot quickly if this does not work out, or if a second base/third base combo of Jean Segura and Scott Kingery does not provide enough offense. Bohm is the other major factor in all of this — if his defense can hold at third base for even a few years during the early part of his career, and if his power and control of the strike zone can translate to the majors, he could be the run-producing five-hole hitter this Phillies team needs.

Before Bohm arrives, though, the question is whether the Phillies' eight projected everyday players represent a contending lineup. It will likely shake out like this. Focus more on the names than the batting order because of how many variations there could be:

1. Andrew McCutchen, LF (R)
2. Didi Gregorius, SS (L)
3. J.T. Realmuto, C (R)
4. Bryce Harper, RF (L)
5. Rhys Hoskins, 1B (R)
6. Jean Segura, 2B (R)
7. Scott Kingery, 3B (R)
8. Adam Haseley, CF (L)

Given the current composition of the rest of the Phillies' roster, this looks like a mid-80s-win team at first glance. A team that projects for 85 to 87 wins with a chance to crack 90 if many things break right. 

If Hoskins rebounds. 

If Kingery becomes a valuable everyday offensive contributor. 

If McCutchen has a full season as productive as his pre-injury work in 2019. 

If the Aaron Nola-Zack Wheeler duo combines for 400 innings with an ERA in the low 3.00s.

If Bohm and Spencer Howard force the Phillies' hand by playing well.

If we see second-half Realmuto and Harper in 2020.

If Jake Arrieta can be more of a No. 3 than a No. 5.

If the Phillies find and settle on a reliable 8th inning-9th inning combination.

The Phillies are unquestionably better now than they were at the end of the 2019 season. Gregorius is a better and more impactful than the player he's basically replacing, Cesar Hernandez. Wheeler is the No. 2 starter the Phillies desperately needed. New manager Joe Girardi may be able to add a win or two here and there with good decision-making.

They are better. The question is how much better. Good enough to push the Nationals and Braves for the division? That would seem an optimistic viewpoint of this Phillies roster, but they can still tinker with their core throughout the offseason by adding another starting pitcher like Wade Miley, a high-upside reliever like Dellin Betances and another good hitter for the bench.

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