Zach Eflin living up to the offseason hype for red-hot Phillies

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Zach Eflin is living up to the offseason hype originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

When Zach Eflin threw four pitches wide of the zone to Ozzie Albies in the bottom of the first Friday night, it was the first walk he’d issued in five starts and his first unintentional walk since the first inning of his first appearance of the season.

Eflin has been locked in. In seven starts, he has a 3.38 ERA with 42 strikeouts and three walks in 45⅓ innings. He ranks second in the National League in innings pitched, a spot behind Zack Wheeler and two in front of Aaron Nola.

Staked to a six-run lead before even taking the mound Friday in Atlanta, Eflin limited the Braves to two runs over 6⅔ innings in a 12-2 win. He was removed by manager Joe Girardi at 99 pitches because the Phillies had a seven-run lead and, when the situation warrants it, they want to protect a trio of starting pitchers poised to surpass 200 innings.

“I just felt like it was a chance to get him out,” Girardi said. “He’ll get an extra day and he should be pretty fresh for his next start.”

The Phillies are off Monday and Eflin lines up to pitch Thursday in D.C.

Eflin has gone at least six innings in all seven of his starts and allowed one or two runs in five of them. He’s gotten better and better over the past six seasons as he’s grown into himself, gained knowledge of his strengths, gained confidence and gained velocity. As a rookie, Eflin’s sinker averaged 92.0 mph. The last two seasons, the average is 93.3.

After an offseason of talk, locally and nationally, that Eflin could make a leap in 2021, he’s been better and more consistent than ever before.

“Made sure to go in on some guys and get them uncomfortable,” he said of his outing Friday. “Threw some really good sliders away to right-handed hitters and backdoor to lefties. But for the most part, it was really just stepping on the gas the whole game, especially with that six-run first inning. “

The Braves have been a strong offensive team for most of Eflin’s time with the Phillies, yet he’s 6-3 with a 3.41 ERA against them in 12 career starts. The Phillies have won eight of those games, including five of the last six. His season ERA against Atlanta has been over 3.20 once.

“We know how explosive that lineup is,” Girardi said after the Phillies improved to 5-2 against the Braves in 2021. “We happened to be here on their Opening Day when they were handing out Silver Slugger after Silver Slugger award to their guys.”

The Phillies will start Vince Velasquez Saturday and Aaron Nola Sunday. Their rotation has thrown one fewer inning than the MLB-leading Dodgers. Phillies starters have the fourth-most strikeouts in the majors and the second-lowest walk rate in the National League.

“It’s definitely in the makings of it,” Eflin said Friday when asked if it seemed like the Phillies, winners of five in a row, were hitting their stride with a fully healthy lineup. “I feel like we’re clicking on all cylinders and it’s a lot of fun.”

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