Zach Eflin

It’s unclear if Gabe Kapler will be Zach Eflin’s manager in 2020, but he sure is bullish on the pitcher

It’s unclear if Gabe Kapler will be Zach Eflin’s manager in 2020, but he sure is bullish on the pitcher

Outwardly, Gabe Kapler’s future as Phillies manager appears uncertain.

But that hasn’t stopped Kapler from talking like he’s going to skipper the team again in 2020.

The conversation before Saturday night’s penultimate game of the season centered around starting pitching and Kapler essentially anointed Zach Eflin as a member of the team’s 2020 rotation.

“The net of his last two seasons looks like an established major leaguer,” Kapler said. “I personally think Eflin has established himself as a dependable piece of a major-league rotation.”

Eflin sure looked like an established big-league starter Saturday night.

He’s looked like one off and on for the last two seasons and especially over his last seven starts this season.

He finished an up-and-down 2019 season with 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball in leading a 9-3 win over the Miami Marlins. Eflin had given up just one run until Neil Walker hit his 108th and final pitch over the wall in right for a two-run homer.

The home run did not diminish the good work that Eflin did.

“It was a proud moment for him walking off the mound,” Kapler said. “He knew that he had a great outing and his teammates congratulated him. Feel good moment for Zach, I’m sure.”

The Phillies backed Eflin with three homers, including Bryce Harper’s 35th, a three-run shot in the sixth.

The victory ensured at least a .500 season for the Phillies. A win in Sunday’s season finale would give them their first winning season since 2011.

“Gotta do it,” Harper said. “Gotta go out there and win tomorrow. That's huge for us. We can go 82-80. Of course that's not where we want to be, but winning seasons are good. It's a steppingstone into next year.”

It remains to be seen who will be leading next year’s team. Kapler’s future is up in the air. Pitching coach Chris Young is likely to be let go.

The perpetually upbeat Kapler has not allowed his uncertain job status to drag him down. He’s already thinking about next season and where Eflin fits into the rotation somewhere behind Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta and Cole Hamels. (Oops, sorry, too early for that.)
 
Eflin was one of four youngish pitchers that the Phillies banked on to take a step forward this season. Nick Pivetta and Jerad Eickhoff did not. Vince Velasquez made progress, but certainly not enough to be considered a lock for a spot in the rotation next season.

“I think the conversation about Vince needs to continue and Nick, I think, has some work to do this offseason,” Kapler said.

Eflin started off the year nicely, spun his wheels in the middle, lost his spot in the rotation then regained it down the stretch. He finished the season with a 2.83 ERA over his last seven starts. That success coincided with his re-finding himself as a pitcher. Team game plans had called for him to throw four-seam fastballs up in the zone, but he struggled with that approach in the middle of the season. When he returned to the rotation in mid-August, he went back to his comfort zone and featured sinking, two-seam fastballs. He started getting quicker outs and pitching deeper into games. His confidence grew and the team’s confidence in him also grew.

“I think at the end of the day I just wanted to go out there comfortable and that’s what I did these past six starts,” Eflin said. “Whether that means fastballs up or sinkers down, you know, really whatever is working in the bullpen is kind of what we’re going for in the game. Having a game plan to go off that is huge. Being able to execute pitches is huge. But for the most part in these last six starts, I think it was more gaining my confidence by executing pitches by using my curveball more, my changeup more and really just feeling comfortable out there.”

Not all of Eflin’s struggles this season were the result of game-planning that might not have fit his preferred style of pitching.

The lanky right-hander is not as physically strong as he could be. He wore down at times. He needs to get stronger this offseason. He doesn’t turn 26 in April so Mother Nature will take care of some of that. But he also plans to work hard in a conditioning program this winter.

“The most important thing would be to get on a pretty good workout routine and really kind of try to make some gains this year,” Eflin said. “Maybe increase my weight a little bit, lose a little body fat and be more conditioned going into spring training. Not that it affected me at all this year, but just getting on top of that. I’ll start throwing in December. I won’t change too much with what I did last offseason because I was pretty healthy the whole season. But really just staying locked in in the offseason and really just gearing up for 2020 and making sure I come to spring with all five pitches and I’m ready to go.”

Kapler believes a little more strength — “body armor,” as he called it — will help Eflin build durability.

“Zach is a strong, athletic guy,” Kapler said. “He can become even stronger and more athletic. I think that will come with physical maturity, with devotion and dedication to his off-season and in-season preparation in 2020. I think that’s an area of development for Zach that will make a big difference in his career.”

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If you still care, Phillies are this close to their first winning season since 2011

If you still care, Phillies are this close to their first winning season since 2011

BOX SCORE

Bryce Harper continued to swing a hot bat and Zach Eflin tossed a gem as the Phillies rolled over the Miami Marlins, 9-3, in Game 161 of the season Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies have beaten the lowly Marlins two nights in a row to put themselves over the .500 mark with one game remaining in the season. The Phils are 81-80. A win in Sunday’s season finale would give them their first winning season since the days of Jimmy, Chase, Ryan, Doc, Cole and Big Chuck back in 2011. A loss would give the Phillies their eighth straight non-winning season.

Eflin shines

After seven relievers picked up 11 innings on Friday night — and with a bullpen game on tap Sunday — the Phillies needed Eflin to go deep into the game. He did just that. He scattered six hits over 7 2/3 innings and allowed just three runs, two of which came on a homer by the last batter he faced, Neil Walker, in the eighth. The homer came on Eflin’s 108th pitch.

The Marlins are one of the worst offensive teams in baseball, ranking last in the majors in OPS (.673) and last in the NL in runs per game (3.80). Eflin capitalized by going right at the Marlins hitters. He threw 74 strikes (12 resulted in swing and misses) and allowed just three hard-hit balls. He continued to use his sinker the majority of the time, but also featured his slider, changeup, curveball and four-seamer.

Eflin’s season took a positive turn over the final five weeks as he began throwing his sinker more. He recorded a 2.83 ERA in 41 1/3 innings over his last seven starts.

The Phillies expect Eflin to hold down a rotation spot next season.

Harper’s hot bat

Harper has shown no let up as the season has moved toward the end. He doubled, tripled and drove in two runs in Friday night’s win. He smacked a three-run homer in this one. It was his 72nd extra-base hit of the season and his 35th homer. He has a career-high 114 RBIs.

Harper’s 35 homers are the most by a Phillie since 2009, when Ryan Howard had 45 and Jayson Werth 36.

Fifteen of Harper’s homers this season have come against left-handed pitching. The only lefty hitter with more homers against lefty pitching is Cody Bellinger with 18.

Also contributing …

Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco both homered for the Phillies and rookie catcher Deivy Grullon had an RBI double for his first big-league hit.

Hernandez and Franco could both be playing their final games with the Phillies on Sunday.

Power month

The Phils have hit 44 home runs in September. That ties the team mark for most in a month. The Phils hit 44 homers in June 2004.

Examination for Kingery

Scott Kingery’s offseason will begin with an eye exam on Monday. He’s been experiencing vision problems.

Up next

The Phillies and Marlins pull the curtain down on the 2019 season at 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The Phillies will use a cast of relievers to get through the game. The Marlins will start right-hander Sandy Alcantara (5-14, 3.95).

The Phillies added right-hander Enyel De Los Santos to the active roster for the final two games.

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Phillies' 10th loss in 15 games to Nationals again shows massive gap in talent

Phillies' 10th loss in 15 games to Nationals again shows massive gap in talent

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Phillies were no match for Patrick Corbin or the top of the Nationals' order in a 7-2 loss, their fourth in the last five games.

At 79-76, the Phillies are one loss to the Nats or one Brewers win away from being eliminated from the wild-card race. The second game of Tuesday's doubleheader might be totally meaningless.

Zach Eflin gave up three early solo home runs to Adam Eaton, Yan Gomes and Trea Turner. Out of top two spots in the order, Turner and Eaton were 5 for 8 with five runs. You're not going to win many games putting so many runners on base in front of Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto.

Corbin didn't need much support. He allowed one run over six innings, struck out six and held the Phillies hitless in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position.

One-sided series

The Phillies are 5-10 against the Nationals this season. You'll recall that they began the season series with a commanding 8-2 win in D.C. on April 2, the night Bryce Harper hit a 458-foot home run in his first game back.

The next afternoon, Rhys Hoskins dropped a routine throw at first base and David Robertson imploded as the Phillies blew a two-run, eighth-inning lead. That would have been the Phillies' fifth straight win to start the season. Here they are 150 games later, still without a five-game winning streak.

It has basically been all downhill from there for the Phillies in their head-to-head matchup with Washington. The Nationals went 7-1 against the Phillies this season in games started by Max Scherzer, Corbin or Stephen Strasburg.

Harper does it again

Harper baited Soto and Nationals third base coach Bob Henley into an aggressive send in the first inning. Deep in right-center and flat-footed, Harper nailed Soto at the plate for his 13th outfield assist of the season, tying his career-high from 2013 when teams knew less about his defense and were more willing to test him.

Harper has been very good in right field this season, worlds better than he was in 2018. He faced many questions during spring training about his defense. None of those questions will be asked in February or March of 2020.

Realmuto shut down?

J.T. Realmuto was out of the lineup with right knee soreness. He had an MRI Monday night which will help the Phillies determine whether there is a risk of further injury. If there is not, Realmuto could be back this season. If there is, it will be an easy decision to shut him down (more details here).

Old stomping grounds

In 15 games against the Nationals this season, Harper has hit .260 with a .415 on-base percentage, three doubles, two homers and eight RBI.

He had a good year against the Braves (7 homers, 1.016 OPS), a decent year against the Marlins (12 RBI in 13 games, .917 OPS) and struggled against the Mets (.226/.342/.403).

Who starts Tuesday?

The Phillies will start reliever Blake Parker in Game 1 Tuesday. It will be a bullpen game.

Game 2 pits Aaron Nola (12-6, 3.75) against Max Scherzer (10-7, 2.81).

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