Zach Eflin has racked up two strong starts since returning to the majors. In 12 2/3 innings, he has allowed just seven hits and one run while striking out 13 and walking just three.
It has all been pretty encouraging, especially considering that Eflin averaged just 4.7 strikeouts and allowed over 10 hits per nine innings in his first 22 big-league starts — 11 in each of the last two seasons.
Why the improvement?
Well, there are a few reasons. Eflin’s legs are finally healthy and strong after double knee surgery in 2016. He’s added 20 pounds of muscle and that has helped his fastball to the point where he is now emphasizing his four-seamer (power fastball) over his two-seamer (sinking fastball.) Eflin sat at 94 mph and topped out at 96.9 mph in pitching 6 2/3 shutout innings in Monday night’s 11-0 win over San Francisco (see story).
But there has been more than just an improved fastball behind Eflin’s recent success.
The 24-year-old right-hander, one of the nicest guys in the Phillies’ clubhouse, has been leaving his nice-guy persona in the locker room when he takes the mound. He’s pitching with an aggressive swagger, with a little chip on his shoulder. It is noticeable to observers and manager Gabe Kapler says it is not by accident.
“You notice a little more aggressiveness in his posture, in his facial expression, which is something we’ve been working on for a long time with Ef,” Kapler said. “I think he attributes a lot of his success to a more aggressive demeanor on the mound and we all think that’s going to play well for him.”
Kapler used a little locker-room lingo in expounding on Eflin’s newfound aggressiveness.
“Some of our pitching coaches in the organization have worked with him on being more aggressive and having more conviction, like bringing some anger, some physicality, some … uh, we say some ‘F you,’“ Kapler said. “Deliver the ball with some ‘F you.’ Make sense?”
You want nice guys to marry your daughter, not pitch for your ballclub.
If Eflin keeps this up, he’s going to make it difficult on Kapler and the front office when Jerad Eickhoff and Ben Lively are ready to come off the disabled list later this month. General manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying Eickhoff would join the rotation when he’s ready. Kapler wavered on that a little Tuesday.
“I’m not sure how long it’s going to take for him to get fully built up and once he’s ready to roll, we’ll examine it then,” Kapler said. “We’ll see how he looks when he’s fully healthy and ready to contribute and see what our rotation is at that point.
“The cool thing about the way our rotation is going is we don’t have to make any decisions right now. We have plenty of time before we have to get to that and at this point we’re just kind of happy with the way things are rolling and happy with the way Eickhoff is progressing, happy the way our guys are coming together at the big-league level right now.”
Eickhoff pitched 2 1/3 innings in an extended spring training game Tuesday in Clearwater. He opened the season on the disabled list with a strained lat muscle.