(Photo of Zach Eflin pitching against the Louisville Bats on April 12, 2018 provided courtesy of Cheryl Pursell.)
Zach Eflin made two starts on the IronPigs most recent homestand and went 1-1 in the two starts. In the game he lost against Norfolk, he deserved better, but got no offensive support in a 6-0 loss. In the two games, Eflin had a combined line of:
11 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 8 K, .219 OPP AVG, 184 pitches/116 strikes
The second of the two outings came on April 17th, on a day where Eflin didn’t come out of the gate with his best stuff, he showed two things. First, he showed that he can battle through such an outing and second, he showed that he can still be effective enough to get hitters out even without his full repertoire working.
The first two innings seemed especially rough for Eflin, who threw 23 pitches in the first inning and another 21 in the second. He allowed four hits over the span and was helped by a base-running blunder by Garabez Rosa who was caught in no-man’s land between first and second when he strayed too far off first base and was caught in a rundown for the final out of the inning. Eflin noticed Rosa straying and threw over, freezing Rosa and leading to the rundown.
When he had baserunners, Eflin threw over to first pretty often. It almost seemed more like he was just working to get himself settled in more than he was showing concern about the Norfolk running game.
After allowing two hits leading to the first run of the game in the first, he allowed two more in the second, but stranded runners on first and third when he got Sharlon Schoop to ground out softly to second.
Suddenly, Eflin seemed to find an answer to whatever was ailing him in the first couple of innings. He needed just seven pitches to retire the side in order in the third, but again worked into some trouble in the fourth when he issued back-to-back walks with one out. He should have been out of the inning when Austin Wynns grounded to third, but what should have been a double-play ball was thrown away by second baseman Alexi Amarista, allowing a run to score. Eflin rebounded well and got another groundball out to end the inning.
“I really need to work on limiting damage this year when guys get on. I was pretty happy that there were a couple of leadoff doubles and I shut them down and kept those guys out on the basepaths. It was a big confidence boost for me and I want to keep doing stuff to limit the damage and keep myself in the game,” said Eflin.
While it took 17 pitches to finish the fifth inning, Eflin got two more groundballs and a strikeout to put the Tides down in order.
Just three of the 15 outs that he recorded were on balls hit in the air, while six came on ground outs.
Here’s a breakdown of just how Eflin pitched against Norfolk:
First-Pitch Strikes: 12 of 20
Called Strikes: 19
Foul Balls: 17
You could see Eflin mixing up how he approached hitters as the game went on. Through the first couple of innings, he stuck primarily with a fastball and change, mixing in an occasional slider. The second time through he went more with a sinker and slider and started introducing the curve to the mix and by the third time through the order, it was sinker, change and curve that dominated his pitch selection.
Eflin used much the same approach in the opener of the homestand against Louisville, but his command was much more on point. He allowed no walks and struck out five over six innings of work for Lehigh Valley, throwing 90 pitches, 59 of which were for strikes.
“I felt really good going out, I felt like I had all of my pitches early in the game,” explained Eflin. “I came with a different intensity this time instead of going right at them.”
While defense wasn’t Eflin’s friend against Norfolk, it certainly was a key against Louisville. Mitch Walding and Jesmuel Valentin came up with big plays as did first baseman Matt McBride, who made a diving stab on a ball that would have gone down the line to drive in at least one run.
“First and foremost, I want to tip my cap to Walding and Jesmuel, they were unbelievable. Everyone behind me tonight was just awesome and they saved a run for me and it’s fun to pitch in front of guys like that,” Eflin said.
On the mound, Eflin seems to be much more relaxed and loose this season. A large part of that can be attributed to the two offseason knee injuries that he had – one on each knee – to repair the patellar tendons in both knees. The issues had caused him knee pain throughout his career and reached a point last season where he had to be shut down.
Eflin was basically using primarily just his upper-body to pitch and wasn’t able to get drive out of his lower-half because of the issues. The surgeries pushed his spring training back a little and effectively gave him little chance of making the Phillies roster out of camp, but at just 24 years of age, he’s got time to return to the majors.
The surgeries combined with a change to some of his grips have made a big difference this season for Eflin.
“My body felt great and everything was smooth. Any time you can just worry about pitching it’s a great thing, so I’m excited to continue to do that,” he explained. “I think my change-up has gotten better, my slider feels better than it’s ever been and I feel like I’m getting a lot more spin on my four-seem and getting more swing and misses on it. It’s a completely different game now because I can use my legs and focus on how I manipulate the baseball, so I’m really looking forward to it.
“I changed the grip on my slider a little bit, it’s more of an off-grip, four-seem fastball and I’m sort of just going with that. It was great in spring training and I’m going to continue to go with that and use it as my wipe-out pitch.”
As a side note, Eflin takes pride in being able to swing the bat a little and came into the season hitting .209 (9-for-43) as a hitter. In his first at-bat against Louisville, Eflin drew a two-out walked and advanced to second when Roman Quinn followed with another base-on-balls. The walk was the first of Eflin’s professional career. He also dropped a sacrifice bunt in his second at-bat.
“Any time that we get to swing the bat it’s fun,” laughed Eflin. “I take pride in getting to hit and I got my first career walk; typically I’m swinging at everything, but I laid off a couple of pitches and got the walk.”
Zach Eflin on pitching with a big lead like he was able to do against Louisville when he was staked to an 8-1 lead:
“You go more after guys and don’t have to pitch around guys, especially when they’re getting themselves out, when you have a comfortable lead. I always want to keep my rhythm and pace on the mound, that’s the important thing.”