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In the Phillies 3-2 win over Baltimore Tuesday night, Zach Eflin got the win to put himself in some pretty good company. He became the first Phillies starter since Cliff Lee in 2011 to string together six straight wins. Eflin upped his record to 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA this season and has become more of a strikeout pitcher, which has led to much of the success. In 63 2/3 innings of work, Eflin has notched 63 strikeouts. The number is much higher than he had amassed in his two previous seasons with approximately the same amount of innings.
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Eflin has escalated his career in pretty much every pitching category. He’s allowed a substantial amount fewer hits and runs, lowered his WHIP, hits per nine, home runs per nine and pumped up his strikeout-to-walk ratio. Eflin is 20 innings shy of qualifying to be among the league leaders in ERA where he would rank eighth and his WHIP would also be in the top 10.
The Phillies got Eflin in a somewhat circuitous route as part of the Jimmy Rollins deal in December of 2014. The day prior to the Rollins trade, the Dodgers acquired Eflin, Yasmani Grandal and Joe Wieland for Tim Federowicz, Matt Kemp and cash. The Dodgers paired Eflin with reliever Tom Windle – who himself has had a resurgence at triple-a this season – to get Rollins and some cash.
Eflin was a guy the Phillies really liked but to be honest, they didn’t picture him being quite this good. He’s moving into the role of more of a first or second starter than the third or fourth type starter he was figured to be.
Much of the difference has been a change to the type of fastball that he throws. When he came over to the Phillies, he had basically a sinker and a change-up, with a very average two-seam fastball. The Phillies moved him to a four-seam fastball and as he became more comfortable with the pitch, Eflin also became more aggressive with the pitch. Instead of having to focus just on keeping the ball down in the zone and relying on his defense, Eflin now has the confidence and the velocity to pitch up in the zone and change the hitter’s eye level.
His fastball is generally in the mid-90s, right around where his sinker sits. A slider, which he would throw on very rare occasions when he first came over, has also become a better pitch that he can throw for strikes and command well in the strike zone. With a slider in the 87 mile-per-hour range, Eflin now has a range of pitches that he can mix and match. The four-seamer topped out at 94 mph in 2016 and is now hitting 96 at times. While it may not seem like a lot, the added velocity is enough to allow him to pitch higher in the zone and blow the ball by hitters.
Another development this season has come in the velocity of his change-up. His change-up velocity used to sit around 87 mph, which didn’t give him a ton of separation between his fastball and change. It was also very close to the velocity of his slider. Now, Eflin is throwing the slider a little harder – 88 and sometimes, 89 – and he’s cut the velocity of his change to right around the 85 mph mark. In fact, in his start Tuesday night against the Orioles, the change averaged out at around 82 mph, continuing a trend of slowing down the pitch to give him greater speed separation among his pitches. He’ll mix in a very occasional cut-fastball to keep hitters wondering.
Part of Eflin’s earlier issues were also related to bad knees. He had been hampered by knee issues throughout his career but it was never thought to be serious enough that he needed surgery. That changed in August of 2016 when the Phillies shut him down late in the season as he struggled to get hitters out. He had surgery on both knees and after some bulkiness last season, Eflin now has two, strong knees to work on which accelerates his drive toward the plate and has helped to add the needed velocity.