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Eflin making effort to slide into rotation void

Santana swats first homer with Phillies; Altherr robs Acuna with athletic catch
Special to MLB.com

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A spot in the Philadelphia rotation opened up when Jerad Eickhoff went down for 6-8 weeks due to a strained lat. Right-hander Zach Eflin looks like the leader to slide right in.

Specifically, by using his slider.

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CLEARWATER, Fla. -- A spot in the Philadelphia rotation opened up when Jerad Eickhoff went down for 6-8 weeks due to a strained lat. Right-hander Zach Eflin looks like the leader to slide right in.

Specifically, by using his slider.

View Full Game Coverage

Though he gave up four runs with four strikeouts over four innings -- including a two-run blast by Ronald Acuna Jr. -- Eflin was pleased after he used the pitch heavily in the team's 10-6 win against the Braves at home on Saturday.

"It's probably the most sliders I've ever thrown in a game, even through four innings," Eflin said. "There were a couple that were up, but for the most part, it's really starting to be my wipeout pitch. I'm really happy about that -- I've been waiting for that for a while."

Video: ATL@PHI: Elfin gets Stewart to go down swinging

The results were not indicative of how the pitch felt. Eflin, who surrendered six total hits, was more focused on the process than the outcome as he continues to make adjustments ahead of the season.

Eflin had struggled to find an early rhythm at the beginning of last season, due to surgeries on both knees prior to the 2017 campaign, so being healthy is as important as anything.

"They obviously came out swinging the bat today, but I felt healthy," Eflin said. "For the most part I was down in the zone, threw a lot of sliders and battled a lot, got out of a couple jams. Ultimately, I think it was a very productive day."

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was pleased with what he saw as well.

"He got more ground balls and had better angles off the bat than his last time out," Kapler said. "He got some swing and miss on the slider and is starting to utilize that pitch a little more effectively."

With Eickhoff being sidelined, it appears Eflin is the frontrunner to be the club's No. 5 starter, having started 11 games in each of the last two seasons. Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr. and Tom Eshelman are also up for the role.

The early regular-season schedule could give the Phillies flexibility to sort things out. Because of early off-days, the team could proceed with a four-man rotation until around April 11, if newly signed right-hander Jake Arrieta is ready to go at the start of the season.

Arrieta breaks in, breaks bats in sim game

First of many? Santana swats leadoff shot
Doing what Philadelphia hopes he will do often throughout the regular season, new first baseman Carlos Santana hit his first home run of the spring and as a Phillie on Saturday.

Video: ATL@PHI: Santana blasts his first homer of the spring

Batting out of the leadoff spot, Santana ripped a ball off Lucas Sims on a 2-1 count down the right-field line that easily cleared the fence. An inning later, Santana was called out on strikes, but in the fourth, he cranked an RBI double to left field.

Santana, who signed a three-year, $60 million deal this offseason, was 6-for-32 with five walks in Grapefruit League action entering the game.

Video: ATL@PHI: Santana laces an RBI double to left

A+ for Altherr
Acuna was already having a good day at the plate with his first-inning home run, his fourth of the spring, but Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr kept it from being better.

With two out in the top of the third, Acuna drove a pitch from Eflin deep to center field, but the 27-year-old Altherr robbed Acuna of at least extra bases with a leaping catch at the wall.

"Off the charts play and a really, really good jump," Kapler said. "I remember what it was like to approach the track and have to have that timing of the steps and the rhythm down to make a leap like that. Incredibly athletic play."

Video: ATL@PHI: Altherr makes an impressive catch

Kapler applauds Hunter, Garcia
Right-hander Tommy Hunter was brought in this offseason to not only provide a veteran presence, but to also help bolster the bullpen. Though he's been inconsistent so far this spring, Kapler was impressed with the one inning he provided on Saturday, allowing just one baserunner in the seventh.

"None of the contact was really strong, even the base hit up the middle was a jam shot," Kapler said of the leadoff single provided by Marcus Mooney. "He shattered a bat and looked really strong."

Hunter was followed by Luis Garcia, who was also impressive, striking out two batters in his one inning of work.

"Those two guys, we're going to be depending on them heavily this season," Kapler said. "It was great to see them come out and really dominate and do their job."

Spring Training information

Up next
The Phillies will travel to Fort Myers to take on the Twins in a 1:05 p.m. ET game Sunday, featuring Opening Day starter Aaron Nola on the mound. The right-hander will look to build off his last start in which he allowed just one hit while striking out five over four innings of work against the Red Sox. The game will be broadcast on MLB.TV and MLB Network.

Greg Zeck is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Phillies on Saturday.

Philadelphia Phillies, Aaron Altherr, Zach Eflin, Luis Garcia, Tommy Hunter, Carlos Santana