One pitcher entered this season with two no-hitters and a Cy Young Award in his trophy case.
The other entered this season in the minor leagues.
One pitcher is making $30 million this season, the highest one-year salary ever for a Philadelphia athlete.
The other is making $548,500, just over the major-league minimum of $545,000.
One pitcher went 0-4 with a 6.66 ERA in five starts in June.
The other went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts in June.
The first pitcher’s name is Jake Arrieta.
The second pitcher’s name is Zach Eflin.
Eflin became the first Phillies pitcher to win five games in a month since Cole Hamels in May 2012 when he pitched seven shutout innings in leading a 3-0 win over the New York Yankees at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night (see first take).
There were so many impressive elements to Eflin’s month. For one, he did not allow a home run in 30 2/3 innings, which makes him the first Phillies pitcher since Roy Halladay in April 2012 to pitch at least 30 innings in a month and not allow a homer. He walked just six batters and struck out 28 in his five June starts.
This might be Eflin’s most important June feat: Four of his five wins came after Phillies’ losses. Wednesday night’s gem stopped a three-game losing streak and prevented the Phillies from being swept by the powerhouse Yankees in a three-game series. The Phils are 42-36 on the season and a hold-their-own 11-13 in June with three games remaining in the month.
The Yankees, who lead the majors in homers and OPS, had outscored the Phillies, 10-2, in the first two games.
Eflin, who turned 24 in April, held them to four singles and two walks while striking out six and throwing just 92 pitches in his seven innings of work. Seranthony Dominguez got the final six outs.
“Eflin was just outstanding,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I leaned over and whispered to (bench coach) Rob Thomson in the middle of the game that, 'Nothing rattles him. It doesn't matter who the hitter is.'
“The guy was dominant all the way through June against some of baseball's best teams. And then tonight, it was just kind of the cherry on top as he went through a Yankees’ lineup that is arguably in the top five in baseball. So he did a tremendous job.”
The Phillies’ offense was hardly potent. It did all its scoring in one inning. But that scoring was enough — a three-run home run by Rhys Hoskins in the second inning. Hoskins has 12 homers on the season and 11 have given the Phillies a lead (see story).
Hoskins was happy to get the game’s biggest hit after going 0 for 8 with four strikeouts in the first two games.
But the first words out of his mouth after the win were in recognition of Eflin.
“He was huge,” Hoskins said. “We needed that. We needed someone to step up. He was big. He gave us seven strong innings and a big win.”
Eflin was the first piece added when the Phillies embarked on their rebuild after the 2014 season, the primary return in the trade that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. When Eflin arrived, he was a sinker-baller who pitched to contact and relied on his defense. Nearly four years later, he’s added strength to his 6-6 frame, and he’s pitching on healthy legs after surgery to repair tendinitis in both knees. All of this has added velocity to his fastball. He still throws a sinking fastball, but he’s become more reliant on a power, four-seam fastball. He’s no longer a pitch-to-contact guy. He’s getting the swings and misses that Phillies management wants to see in its starters. He's throwing the ball by hitters.
He’s a different pitcher than the one the Phillies traded for.
“Absolutely,” Eflin said. “I came over here with a sinker and a changeup. Now I feel like I have a better arsenal. I’ve been a lot more impressed with my four-seam fastball. Being able to do that has really helped me a lot. It’s kind of cool to think you were one pitcher and then all of a sudden you’re a different pitcher. Being able to make that transition has been awesome.”
The transformation can be seen in the numbers. Eflin struck out just 4.7 batters per nine innings over 22 big-league starts in 2016 and 2017. This season, he is striking out more than nine batters per nine innings.
Pitching coach Rick Kranitz believes Eflin’s transformation has been part physical, part mental, part power on the fastball and part mindset driven by confidence.
“I think he’s comfortable in his own skin in general and he’s getting after it,” Kranitz said. “Guys don’t all of a sudden start getting swings and misses out of nowhere. He’s getting them because he’s trying to get guys to swing and miss.
“Zach, to me, was always very conservative throwing the baseball. Now, he’s not keeping anything in the tank. He’s pushing. Right from the get-go, he’s on the gas pedal. It’s a mindset. There’s a huge difference. What he did this month is as good as it gets.”
And beating the Yankees?
"It's pretty cool, very cool," Eflin said. "As a kid you dream of facing the Yankees, let alone play in the big leagues. To face the Yankees and go seven scoreless was awesome."
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