Phillies

Zach Eflin finds success doing it his way — can he provide a lift for Phillies down the stretch?

Zach Eflin finds success doing it his way — can he provide a lift for Phillies down the stretch?

MIAMI — Zach Eflin is growing up. He’s becoming a man, speaking up and advocating for himself.

The results were on display Saturday night.

The 25-year-old right-hander led the Phillies to a 9-3 win over the Miami Marlins by doing it his way.

Featuring mostly sinking, two-seam fastballs — the pitch that got him to the majors and the pitch that he feels most comfortable throwing — Eflin tossed six innings of two-run ball. He scattered six hits, walked none and struck out two.

The performance was Eflin’s best since mid-June. He had a horrendous month of July and was demoted to the bullpen. That demotion led to his taking stock in himself as a pitcher. He concluded that he was throwing too many four-seam fastballs as he tried to satisfy those who wanted the strikeouts and swings and misses that are in vogue in today’s game. Phillies officials preach throwing four-seamers up in the zone as a way to combat hitters looking to launch and the approach does have merit with pitchers who have fastballs in the mid-90s. Eflin, in fact, has had success, at times, with that approach. But after struggling so much in the middle of this season, and having trouble going deep into games, Eflin decided he needed to get back to his comfort zone. He threw 79 pitches Saturday night and 37 of them (a season-high 47 percent) were sinkers. He got 10 outs on the ground.

“I think I can personally be more effective throwing sinkers, getting early outs, and staying in the game longer,” Eflin said after notching his first win in two months. “I think the recipe for getting early contact, getting ahead of guys, and staying in the game as long as I can, which is what a starting pitcher is supposed to do, definitely feels more comfortable for me.”

Charlie Manuel likes to say, "Know thyself." Eflin knows himself. Using the two-seamer and pitching to contact gives him more confidence.

“Absolutely,” he said. “There’s always a time for swing and miss and four-seamers and stuff like that. Fortunately for me, I was able to throw a really good sinker and get some groundballs tonight.”

Eflin confirmed that his July struggles made him decide to go back to featuring his sinker.

“It had been the couple outings previous to me going to the bullpen that I was kind of really wanting to go back to sinker-balling and getting early contact,” he said. “That’s when I got moved to the bullpen and it was kind of tough to figure out what I wanted to do from a bullpen standpoint, whether I wanted to keep doing the swing-and-miss stuff or start implementing my sinker. It had been three or four weeks in the making and then going back to the rotation I was pretty dead set on it.”

Eflin said he had a conversation with pitching coach Chris Young “and he was all for” the change in approach.

“I didn't demand it at all,” Eflin said. “We simply sat down and talked about it and I told him what I thought I was best at doing. At the end of the day, it’s a two-way street. They want what’s best for me, as well. If I’m at my best going out there throwing sinkerballs and getting early contact and going late into the game, then ultimately that’s what’s going to be best for the team. There was no point where they were against me doing it.”

Eflin mixed in four-seamers, sliders, curveballs and changeups in stopping the Marlins on Saturday night. The Marlins put up 19 runs on the Phillies on Friday night and the team needed a big performance from Eflin.

“A lot of weak contact on the ground, good two-seamer in the zone, attacking, efficient, and strong through six innings for us,” was manager Gabe Kapler’s appraisal of Eflin’s outing.

Kapler was asked about the genesis of Eflin’s change in approach. Did the pitcher push for it? Did the team?

“I think it’s a combination of both,” Kapler said. “It’s something that he feels comfortable with. I know that Chris Young likes to run (the two-seamer) in on the hands of right-handed hitters. If Zach Eflin is getting the ball on the ground, something good is happening. So, obviously, swings and misses are nice and there are going to be times for those, and right now he’s focusing on weak contact, efficiency and getting the ball on the ground and being successful with that approach.”

Kapler was asked about how that approach could help Eflin’s confidence.

“I think it’s less about something that specific and more about him feeling like his body is strong, he’s capable of giving us length, he’s capable of being efficient, and less about one pitch in particular,” Kapler said. “I’m not saying that it’s not important, I just don’t think that it’s — I think it’s much more the aggregate of what he’s doing right now rather than him leaning more heavily on the two-seamer. He also used a curveball and a slider successfully today and some four-seamers at times.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter how Zach Eflin rediscovers his effectiveness. All that matters is that he does. The Phillies are in a playoff chase. They have 34 games left. They desperately need starting pitchers not named Aaron Nola to step up. Maybe Eflin, back in his comfort zone, can be one of those guys. In the meantime, the Phillies look to make it a 4-1 trip behind Nola on Sunday.

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Phillies make a minor trade, sign a familiar utility man on final day of winter meetings

Phillies make a minor trade, sign a familiar utility man on final day of winter meetings

SAN DIEGO — The Phillies wrapped up the winter meetings with a blip of activity in the Rule 5 draft Thursday. The club selected Vimael Machin, a shortstop from the Chicago Cubs organization, with the 15th pick in the draft and quickly traded him to the Oakland A’s in a cash deal.
 
The Phillies lost no players in draft.
 
The Phillies did make an addition before leaving the meetings. According to sources, the club re-signed utility man Phil Gosselin to a minor-league deal with an invite to big-league spring training camp.
 
Gosselin, 31, played in 44 games for the Phillies last season and hit .262. He was 10 for 32 with three RBIs as a pinch-hitter. He played left field, shortstop and third base. Gosselin spent the bulk of the season at Triple A Lehigh Valley, where he hit .314 with 8 homers, 47 RBIs and a .901 OPS in 296 at-bats.
 
Active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 players next season so Gosselin will be in play for a spot on the lengthened bench along with veteran infielder Josh Harrison and others. Harrison recently signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies.
 
Gosselin, a West Chester native, played at Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia. He has played in the majors with the Braves, Pirates, Reds, Rangers, Diamondbacks and Phillies.

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Sounds like Odubel Herrera is a goner as Phillies’ GM backs Adam Haseley for starting CF job

Sounds like Odubel Herrera is a goner as Phillies’ GM backs Adam Haseley for starting CF job

SAN DIEGO  — Phillies general manager Matt Klentak all but anointed Adam Haseley as the team’s starting centerfielder for the 2020 season on Wednesday and in doing so offered his strongest indication yet that Odubel Herrera will not be part of the club.

“I expect that Adam Haseley's going to be our regular centerfielder,” Klentak said on Day 3 of baseball’s winter meetings. “But having said that, I recognize that when Roman Quinn is healthy and playing to his potential, it's hard to take him out of the lineup. I think that combination of players likely takes down the majority of our center field reps this year.”

Klentak went on to say he expected Jay Bruce to be part of the club and “cover us on the corners,” as a backup to Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper as well as a bat off the bench.

That’s five outfielders and no Herrera.

By now you know the story. Herrera was suspended for violating Major League Baseball’s policy against domestic violence last May. As a matter of procedure, he has been reinstated to the 40-man roster, but there is no guarantee he will part of the team in 2020. In fact, it seems quite doubtful based on how team officials have glossed over him  — he’s basically a forgotten man  — whenever talking about plans for the coming season. Klentak’s strong backing of a Haseley-Quinn tandem in center field next season was the latest example.

Herrera, who turns 28 this month, was the Phillies’ starting centerfielder for four-plus seasons before his suspension, and he has two years and more than $20 million remaining on his contract. When Major League Baseball and the Players Association forged its joint policy on domestic violence, both sides agreed that a player violating the policy could not have his contract voided. To move on from Herrera, the Phillies would have to eat the remainder of his salary and prove that they were releasing him for purely baseball reasons. The emergence of Haseley, who came up in June last season, and the desire to see more of him in 2020 sure sounds like a baseball reason.

“He has a guaranteed contract for this year and next,” Klentak said of Herrera. “He's getting paid. When he left the team in the spring, he was the everyday center fielder and what he's coming back to now is a much different situation. 

“It’s just a different landscape than before Odubel was suspended. That’s the crux of the issue here.”

The Phillies probably won’t feel any pressure to make a call on Herrera’s future until spring training draws near. If he comes to camp, he will have to earn his way onto the active roster. 

“Anything that happens from here on out is going to be performance driven and he has to earn whatever he’s going to get. His standing on our club is impacted by both how he performs, but also what happens around him. Some of this is within his control and some it is not. He’s in Miami, he’s working out and he’s getting himself in good shape. He understands that he’s going to have to earn whatever he gets in his career and he’s taking that seriously.”

Haseley, who will play at age 24 next season, was the Phillies’ first-round draft pick in 2017. He was a big favorite of Klentak for his ability to control the strike zone (i.e., work counts, limit strike outs, get on base) at the University of Virginia. He was called up from the minors when McCutchen blew out his ACL in June and hit .266 with 14 doubles, five homers, 26 RBIs and a .720 OPS in 222 at-bats. He walked just 14 times and struck out 60.

“In a perfect world, he would have spent more time in the minor leagues,” Klentak said. “But with McCutchen getting hurt, we felt it was the right time to be a little more aggressive. He had some ups and downs. It wasn’t a perfect rookie season. But I think he gives a real good at-bat. He’s got a very good idea of the strike zone — he had that as an amateur and he started to show it at the big-league level. I know his walk-to-strikeout totals weren’t great but I think if you watch his at-bats, I think you can see he has that skill and as he starts to become more comfortable at this level we’ll start to see that more and more.

“I was also impressed with his defense so I think when you look at the body of work over three months that he was in the big leagues that’s a pretty impressive rookie season and I think there’s reason for optimism that he’ll be better than that (in 2020).”

From Jake Arrieta to Zack Wheeler to McCutchen and Harper, the Phillies have spent big on free agents over the last couple of years, and they still want to extend J.T. Realmuto’s contract later this winter. Most teams cannot survive by signing high-priced talents all over the diamond. For sustainability reasons, some of that talent has to be young, homegrown, and by extension, inexpensive.

So say hello to Adam Haseley in 2020. 

“I think he’s going to be a really good player,” Klentak said. “And as important as anything, our team needs to make sure that we are giving opportunities to young players when the time is right and when those players deserve it. With the way that our roster is unfolding - we have the center field spot (open) and a good young player who we really like who showed well for himself in his rookie year  — it makes sense for us to let him get the reps out there.”

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