Zach Eflin’s struggles as a starting pitcher continued on Saturday night in his first start since July 27.
A miserable six-start stretch earned him a demotion to the bullpen, but he had pitched well in four relief appearances, allowing only one earned run in 5.2 innings pitched.
He navigated the first three innings unscathed tonight as the Phillies built an early 3-0 lead, but he ran into trouble during the fourth inning when the Padres plated three two-out runs, quickly knocking him out of the game after only 73 pitches.
After his most recent poor performance, Eflin now has a 10.09 ERA while averaging less than five innings per outing over his last seven starts.
Part of the problem seems to be Eflin’s inability to adjust after going through an opponent’s order for the first time, so I asked manager Gabe Kapler about that.
“Really difficult to pinpoint anything, particularly given that he just came out of the bullpen. Going back, I’d have to probably do a little digging on that for you,” he said. “I know that the first couple of starts of the year he wasn’t having that issue.”
According to the pregame notes assembled by the Phillies’ communications staff, Eflin entered the game holding opposing hitters to a .213 average and .672 OPS the first time through an order, but those numbers balloon to a .363 average and 1.082 OPS the second time through.
That trend played out once again in this start. San Diego hitters were 5 for 10 against Eflin the second time through the order, including a crucial two-out hit by Padres pitcher Dinelson Lamet that extended the inning and led to later damage.
“Yeah, just horrible two-strike pitches. It’s something that I really need to get on top of,” Eflin said after the game.
It’s not like Eflin can’t pitch.
He had a 2.25 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while holding opponents to a .218 batting average in a nine-start stretch spanning 60 innings from April 28 to June 19. In fact, he had 2.82 ERA while limiting opponents to a .239 average over his first 14 starts this season.
I don’t believe that just happens by accident, and even if it does, there’s no way that he should be this ineffective. The extreme highs and lows of his season have truly been one of the most puzzling developments for the Phillies.
Eflin is hoping that once he adjusts to rejoining the rotation, his endurance will build and improvement will follow.
“It was really mostly the big innings tonight, the long innings. If I’m throwing 10-12 pitches an inning, I don’t know if there would really be any restrictions, but to have a couple of long innings in a row, have guys on base every single inning, and not having a clean inning kind of took a toll on me a little bit,” he said. “Like I said, we have an off day coming up. I’m going to be able to throw a longer bullpen and really get geared up to pitch ever fifth day again, so to build that endurance back up is going to be pretty important.”
The Phillies just cannot seem to get to seven games over .500
Why? No idea. Your guess is as good as mine, but it’s this arbitrary mountain they haven’t scaled since mid-June. They are now winless in eight tries when attempting to reach seven games over .500.
The Phillies are now also 0-5 this season when they have had a chance to extend their winning streak beyond four games.
Good Idea, Bad Result
Cesar Hernandez had been 7 for 10 with four walks in 3-1 counts this season, but his shallow fly ball to right field with one out and Corey Dickerson on third base in the sixth inning was a killer.
Yeah, Dickerson could’ve scored because right fielder Hunter Renfroe’s throw was up the first base line, but it was a gamble on a 272-foot weakly hit fly ball, and Renfroe has a plus-arm. The Phillies didn’t score, and they didn’t threaten after that.
Kapler had no second guesses on third base coach Dusty Wathan’s decision to hold Dickerson.
“Nobody does more homework than Dusty on arm strength of the outfielders, positioning of the outfielders, we just trust his decision-making process,” he said.
Eflin’s 3.2 IP effort tonight marked the 29th time in 123 games this season that a Phillies starting pitcher failed to complete five innings. That means they’ve failed to get five innings from a starter in 23.6% of their games this season.
The New Guy
Nice Phillies debut for Jared Hughes, who joined the team earlier Saturday. He pitched a clean 1-2-3 seventh. We were told he was a really nice guy prior to his arrival, which is something that doesn’t usually get said.
Bob Nightengale even tweeted about it:
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) August 15, 2019
And I gotta say, I think he’s right -he might seriously be the the friendliest guy I’ve ever met. He takes a fantastic photo, too:
Count me in as a fan of new Phillies reliever Jared Hughes. https://t.co/mchCLLDYD3
— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) August 17, 2019
Jason Vargas gets the ball for the Phillies in the rubber match. He’ll go up against San Diego’s Joey Lucchesi.
Vargas has a 4.15 ERA in three starts with the Phillies. He threw six shutout innings of one-hit baseball against the Padres earlier this season when he was with the Mets back on July 23.