Philadelphia Phillies: Zach Eflin has earned his spot in the rotation

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

Though the Philadelphia Phillies have benefitted from strong pitching this season, Zach Eflin has been surprisingly good as the team’s fifth starter.

A few weeks back I wrote that this Philadelphia Phillies team was building an identity behind some dominant pitching efforts.

The signing of the right-hander and former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta signaled that the organization was serious about taking a step forward, but there were questions about the offense and even some questions about the middle infield positions and who would occupy them coming into the season.

Some of those questions still exist.

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The one area where the Philadelphia Phillies appeared to have the least questions, however, was the pitching.

Now, it is fair to say that few could have predicted that Phillies pitching would be this good through 68 games, after all, Aaron Nola had spent some time on the DL the previous season, Vince Velasquez had shown promise but still hadn’t put it all together just yet, Nick Pivetta was young, and Jake Arietta had supposedly lost a little bit off his fastball.

And yet, despite those concerns, the Phillies have had a good start to the season, sat in first place in the division, and at one point were 9 games over .500 on the season. They’ve come back down to earth a little bit after facing some of the better teams in baseball, but the one constant has been the Phillies’ pitching. It’s hard to argue that the starting rotation is probably the biggest reason why they remain four games over .500 to this point.

The Phillies’ team ERA at one point was good for fourth in the National League. Thanks to a couple of blowouts to Milwaukee and a few blown saves, that number has ballooned a bit, but the Phillies have been competitive in most of their games thanks to their rotation. Nola, Velazquez, Pivetta, and Arietta are the names that are most talked about when discussing Phillies pitching, but one hurler who might warrant a little bit more attention is Zach Eflin.

In his last three starts, Eflin has three wins and an ERA of 3.6. The ERA is not a flashy number, but it also doesn’t really tell the story about how good Eflin has pitched since getting rocked by the Dodgers on May 30.

Eflin’s season ERA of 3.43 is third best among Phillies starting pitchers and right behind Jake Arietta who’s seen his ERA jump to 3.33. His recent three-win streak came against tough competition in the form of the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, who he beat twice. His most recent outing (Via Matt Breen of against the Brewers on Saturday, June 16 was particularly dominant as he held a team that had scored 13 runs the previous day to a single run.

The Brewers have a lineup full of hitters, as the Phillies have found out in three of their five meetings so far. The Phillies looked to Eflin to help them secure a much-needed win and he didn’t disappoint. Despite being pulled by Gabe Kapler just a bit early in the fifth inning, Eflin ended his day with 73 total pitches with 51 of them for strikes. He struck out 6-17 batters he faced.

It was an effort that the Phillies sorely needed, and when you can get that kind of effort from your number five starting pitcher, you will take it every day and twice on Sunday. It really speaks volumes about the depth of a team’s starting pitching.

What’s been most surprising about Eflin’s increasingly strong performances is that he was a guy that was on the outside looking in for most of spring training and the early regular season. Jerad Eickhoff was supposed to be a regular on the starting rotation but has battled a shoulder injury that has kept him on the DL.

Ben Lively was given two starts, but he was quickly put back on the 40 man roster after posting a record of 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA. This opened the door for Eflin, and he is doing all that he can to keep a stranglehold on a starting job.

Now, Eflin is known to be a boom-or-bust type of pitcher. When his fastball is locating, he can be very difficult to hit, as he showed in the game against the Brewers, but when he’s off, he can be really off. Fortunately for the Phillies, they’ve gotten three consecutive strong outings out of Eflin, which could be a sign that the righty is starting to figure it out at the major league level.

With several high profile names like Nola and Arietta, and even Velazquez, who’s been flashing his best stuff lately, it can be easy to forget about a guy like Eflin, but if he continues to pitch the way he has been against top-tier competition, the Phillies are not only going to continue to find themselves competing for wins, but they’ll have quite a decision to make with regards to Eickhoff once he returns.

Next: Aaron Nola continues to be unstoppable at home

But for now, Eflin appears to have earned at least couple more starts in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.