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Eflin's 'got that inside him' to propel Phillies

@ToddZolecki
September 24, 2020

Bryce Harper approached Zach Eflin in the Phillies’ dugout on Wednesday night at Nationals Park. Eflin had just left the mound after pitching eight-plus innings in a game Philadelphia needed to win. Harper needed to say a few things to the right-hander. Harper told Eflin how much he appreciated his

Bryce Harper approached Zach Eflin in the Phillies’ dugout on Wednesday night at Nationals Park. Eflin had just left the mound after pitching eight-plus innings in a game Philadelphia needed to win.

Harper needed to say a few things to the right-hander.

Harper told Eflin how much he appreciated his effort in a 12-3 victory. He told him how much the team needed him to be a workhorse and pitch deep into the game. Harper reminded Eflin how big this game was and how big it could be for the Phillies entering their final series of the season.

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“He’s got that inside him,” Harper said later.

Eflin has shown how good he can be lately, which is a good thing for the Phillies. If they find a way to crawl back into the postseason, they will need Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola to pitch well and win this weekend against the Rays at Tropicana Field. If they do pitch well and win -- and if they get help from the Marlins (28-28), Reds (29-28) and Giants (28-27), who are ahead of them in the standings -- the Phillies (28-29) will need somebody else to pitch Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series next Wednesday.

Eflin would be the guy. He would be asked to start the franchise’s first postseason game since Chris Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay in Game 7 of the 2011 NL Division Series at Citizens Bank Park.

Eflin pitched splendidly on Wednesday. He allowed three runs on six hits and one walk with nine strikeouts, helping the Phillies snap their four-game losing streak and improve to 28-29 with three games to play. After Wednesday's games, the Giants (No. 7 seed) and Reds (No. 8) hold a one-game lead over the Phils.

The Marlins are one half-game ahead of the Phillies in the NL East, but Miami owns the tiebreaker for the second-place qualifier in the division.

“It would be awesome,” Eflin said about a potential Game 1 start. “I tell you guys all the time, I want the ball. I’m not scared of the ball. If I’m the first guy up, it would be an honor. I’m ready to go attack some hitters and get some outs.”

Eflin preceded Wednesday’s start with a seven-inning shutout last Friday against the Blue Jays. He is 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA (15 earned runs in 37 innings) in his last six starts. He has struck out 41 and walked six in that stretch.

Eflin has flashed an impressive curveball during that span, striking out three batters with the pitch on Wednesday. Over his last six starts, he has fanned 18 of 41 (43.9 percent) batters on curveballs. In comparison, he struck out just 25 of 347 batters (7.2 percent) on curveballs in the first 82 games (78 starts) of his career.

“To be completely honest, I just stopped throwing it like a baby,” Eflin said.

Then Eflin got help from the Phillies’ offense, which went deep five times.

Harper hit opposite-field solo home runs in the first and sixth innings, and he was intentionally walked three times. Andrew McCutchen’s solo homer to left in the eighth made it 4-1, while Didi Gregorius and Andrew Knapp each hit a three-run shot in the ninth to put the game away.

But the Phillies have played so poorly lately, because their bullpen is on pace to be one of the worst in history, that each inning Eflin pitched was big, even with a five-run lead in the eighth.

Eflin said if he is needed to pitch out of the bullpen this weekend, he is available.

“I want the ball,” Eflin said. “I’m going to be available in any way I can.”

And if the Phillies do what they believe they can do, they will have Eflin on the mound in Game 1 next week.

“I would feel really good about that,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “I would be doing cartwheels, and it’s not pretty.”

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