ben lively

Zach Eflin learning to say 'F you' to hitters and Gabe Kapler likes it

Zach Eflin learning to say 'F you' to hitters and Gabe Kapler likes it

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?”

Sure does.

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.

Mechanical tweak could mean more fastball pop for Jerad Eickhoff

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Mechanical tweak could mean more fastball pop for Jerad Eickhoff

After watching Jerad Eickhoff throw a couple of simulated innings Saturday, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler mentioned how impressed he was with the life and velocity that the right-hander had on his fastball.

Eickhoff opened the season on the disabled list with a strained right lat muscle. He has recovered from the injury and is now building arm strength and going through the progressions that a pitcher normally does in spring training. He is expected to be back in the Phillies' rotation at the end of May.

But what about this velocity that Kapler saw Saturday? The manager said Eickhoff's fastball was between 91 and 93 mph. Last year, Eickhoff's fastball averaged 90.5 mph, according to Pitch/FX.

Turns out that, in addition to rehabbing his injury, Eickhoff has been working on a small mechanical adjustment in his delivery. Basically, he has worked on speeding up the break of his hands, just being a little more aggressive with that action. That, he believes, could translate into a little more arm speed and an extra tick on his fastball.

"It's just a slight adjustment," the pitcher said.

But so far, it agrees with him.

"I've thrown five or six bullpens and gotten up and down (in simulated innings) and it feels great," Eickhoff said. "It seems like there's a lot of life on the ball, more late life."

As the Phillies head to Miami for a series with the Marlins on Monday, Eickhoff will head to Clearwater to ramp up his rehab. He is scheduled to throw live batting practice Tuesday. He will do that once or twice this week before seeing some competition in extended spring training games.

General manager Matt Klentak has said Eickhoff would go back in the rotation when he's ready.

Later on this week, Eickhoff will be joined in Clearwater by another pitcher who is recovering from an injury. Reliever Pat Neshek (shoulder) has been throwing in the bullpen. He will travel with the Phillies to Miami and move his rehab to Clearwater on Friday. Barring any setbacks, he is expected to be back in the Phils' bullpen during the middle week of May when the club travels to Baltimore and St. Louis.

Ben Lively placed on DL, Phillies relief prospect moves up a level

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Ben Lively placed on DL, Phillies relief prospect moves up a level

Updated: 5:14 p.m.

A day after getting shelled in the Phillies’ 8-2 loss to the Diamondbacks, starting pitcher Ben Lively was placed on the 10-day DL with a lower back strain.

“We talked about [his back] in about the third inning of the game," Gabe Kapler said. "It’s something he identified, and he told us that he was able to pitch. And one thing we thought about right away was, ‘how do we keep this guy as healthy as possible?’ That was our number one consideration.

"And then after the game, I had a conversation with Lives, talked through it a little bit more. Now, our mission is to keep him as healthy as possible and get him there as quickly as possible.”

In a corresponding move, Jake Thompson was recalled from Triple A Leigh Valley. But Kapler said Thompson will be coming out of the bullpen and Lively's replacement in the rotation is still to be determined.

“That's TBD," Kapler said of Lively's spot in the rotation. "We have some options internally, we have some options at Triple A, and we’ll think through those.”

Lively, 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA, has been the lone Phillies starter to struggle in April. With Jerad Eickhoff due back soon, Lively’s rotation spot is in jeopardy.

Thompson had allowed five runs (four earned) in five innings out of the Phils’ bullpen before being sent down the second week of April. He made three starts with the IronPigs and struggled mightily his last time out (April 22), allowing 10 earned runs in 3 2/3 innings.

However, in Thompson's last appearance in Philadelphia, he went three scoreless innings in a 20-1 rout of the Marlins on April 7. Kapler liked what he saw that night. 

“His last outing was good for us … He’s got a good slider," Kapler said. "We want to see him continue to develop his slider, we want to see him continue to be a strike thrower. If he’s able to do both of those things, he helps us in these sort of scenarios, in this role specifically.”

In 18 big-league starts, Thompson is 6-8 with a 4.64 ERA. He’s walked 46 and struck out 64 in 95 innings in that role.

Zach Eflin, who has a 4.05 ERA in four starts at Triple A, also struggled in his last start (April 23), allowing six runs in four innings.

Because the Phillies have an off day on May 3, it is possible that a spot starter would be needed only once.

Closer prospect moves up to AAA
In a related move, the Phillies promoted highly-touted relief prospect Seranthony Dominguez from Double A to Triple A.

Dominguez, 23, had a 2.08 ERA for Reading with 18 strikeouts and just two walks in 13 innings. He’s a candidate to be up in the big leagues later this season if he continues to thrive in the minors.

Kapler saw Dominguez pitch firsthand earlier this week at Reading and came away thoroughly impressed.

"He's definitely got the talent," Kapler said when asked if Dominguez could help the Phillies this season. "He's definitely got the demeanor. And one of the things I mentioned yesterday as I was watching him was when we went out for mound visits (during spring training), this was a guy that was completely composed, in some ways similar to the way Scott Kingery's heartbeat is. He was always very cool, calm and collected. Then to come up and dial up 97, 98 (mph) with a nasty slider - those two things in combination lead me to believe he can make an impact."

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Noah Levick contributed to this story.