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Eflin finding groove with comfort and confidence

@ToddZolecki
February 26, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin threw a sinker in a situation Wednesday that last season might have been a four-seam fastball up in the zone or a hard slider. Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz beat Eflin’s 3-2 pitch into the ground toward Phillies third baseman Jean Segura,

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin threw a sinker in a situation Wednesday that last season might have been a four-seam fastball up in the zone or a hard slider.

Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz beat Eflin’s 3-2 pitch into the ground toward Phillies third baseman Jean Segura, who turned an inning-ending double play in the first inning of a 5-4 win at CenturyLink Sports Complex. Eflin said afterward that he felt comfortable throwing a sinker or changeup in that situation. He chose the sinker because it's the pitch that got him to the big leagues and it's his greatest strength.

It wasn’t always that way last season.

“I was four-seam-slider guy, then sinker-changeup guy, then four-seam-slider guy, then sinker-changeup guy,” said Eflin, who pitched two scoreless innings on Wednesday. “I think I did better when I was sinker-change and threw in the slider. So to be able to ride with that and pitch comfortably is going to be huge for all of us.”

The joy and optimism in the voices of returning Phillies pitchers has been an overriding theme of camp. The organization’s decision to dismiss former pitching coach Rick Kranitz and promote assistant pitching coach Chris Young following the 2018 season backfired. The Phillies parted ways with Young after last season and replaced him with Bryan Price, who has received rave reviews for his ability to connect with and teach his pitchers.

Price is Eflin’s fourth pitching coach in four seasons.

“Going through four pitching coaches, obviously four different opinions,” Eflin said. “I think what everybody is focused on right now is being themselves and realizing what got us to the big leagues and taking advantage of doing what you’re good at. I think that’s a huge step for everybody. Not necessarily trying to pitch differently or do something different, but for me personally being able to go through the last four years trying out different things as the pitching coaches came in, I know that I can kind of pitch however I want now -- comfortably.

“When you’re trying to be someone you’re not, it’s not the best way to go about it. I think there’s a time and a place to learn how to be productive for the upcoming season, maybe in the offseason you start trying to screw around with stuff instead of eight, 10 starts into the year. I think that was a huge learning curve for me was going into the season with what you have, make sure you’re healthy every fifth day in your bullpens and really go out and attack hitters, get early contact, get outs. Outs are really precious in this game, regardless of how hard they hit it, so just to be able to do that is good.”

The Phillies are picked to finish fourth in the National League East in part because the projections are not kind to the pitching staff.

Can pitching comfortably, can simply being yourself, really make that much of a difference in 2020?

“Absolutely,” Eflin said. “At the end of the day, we want to feel as good as we can on the mound, and when you’re trying to do something different, you don’t feel good. There are some starts you could go out there with what you haven’t done your whole career and feel good and think, ‘OK, I might be able to do that next time.’ And the next time it just doesn’t work. I’ve always been a consistent sinkerball guy, I always attacked the hitters, so I don’t really see any reason to change that.”

Segura continues to impress
Segura made a nice backhand to turn the first-inning double play. After he struggled on a couple plays in his debut at third Sunday, he has looked better in two games since.

“That’s not an easy play, not an easy turn,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “What I like is it’s smooth. It’s not panicky. It looks like he’s been doing it.”

Segura also went 2-for-3 with one double and one RBI against Minnesota.

Extra bases
• Minor League catching prospect Rafael Marchan continues to impress Girardi, even after his misplayed a popup in the fifth. Not known for his bat, Marchan also went 2-for-2 with a run scored.

“He doesn’t have to show power,” Girardi said. “He’s just got be an adequate hitter. Defensively, he’s going to save you runs by catching. Carlos Ruiz was not a really good hitter when he first came up. He’s got talent. You hope that he really figures out the bat part of it. Because if he does, you’ve got something really special.”

• Arquimedes Gamboa hit a go-ahead solo home run off Twins right-hander Brandon Koch to right field in the ninth inning.

• Center fielder Adam Haseley is OK other than a stiff neck after slamming his head into the turf Tuesday.

• Right-hander Robert Stock has not pitched this spring. He has a forearm issue, and he will be tested again Friday.

Up next
Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta will make his second start of the spring at 1:05 p.m. ET on Thursday against the Red Sox in Fort Myers. Pivetta is competing with Vince Velasquez, Ranger Suárez and others to be the team’s No. 5 starter.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .