PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies could jump back into contention in the National League East with a strong weekend against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park.
They will need to win the series, if not sweep it, which means they will need Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin to pitch well Saturday night. Eflin is 1-3 with a 9.38 ERA in his last five starts, with an 11.08 ERA in his last three. Two of his last three starts have had some puzzling moments or results. Eflin acknowledged that a 13-pitch at-bat against Ronald Acuna Jr. drained him on July 4 in Atlanta, despite Acuna being the first batter of the game. Eflin then complained of feeling “heavy” Saturday in Pittsburgh.
The Phillies and Eflin maintain he is healthy.
“There was just nothing to it,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said before Friday night’s series opener. “In fairness, we were just kind of talking openly and it just took on a life of its own. But being tired in the middle of a season is kind of normal for pitchers and not necessarily a sign of anything serious. And I think that's the way we took it after lots of questions.
“The determination is Zach is fine and doesn't need to be pushed back. No official examination. No red flags. No concerns about injury. None of that stuff.”
Concerns about the Phillies’ rotation are why the team has been connected to every starting pitcher available before Wednesday's Trade Deadline, which includes everybody from the Indians’ Trevor Bauer to the D-backs' Zack Greinke to the Blue Jays’ Marcus Stroman to the Tigers’ Matthew Boyd. Phillies president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak have both said recently that they are unlikely to part with top prospects, considering their current position in the standings. That does not mean they can’t or won’t change their minds. But they seem more likely to make marginal upgrades than a big splash.
“I am confident that we're looking for every possible upgrade, depth piece, addition that we can find as a group,” Kapler said. “We have these conversations regularly. They're collaborative and most of my energy and focus is spent on developing the group that we have in the room right now. I said it last year. I'll say it again today. If everybody in the room, under the roof right now -- coaches, staff, medical, strength and conditioning -- takes a noticeable step forward, we're going to be fine. We're going to be very competitive. We're going to be a strong team.”
• Left fielder Jay Bruce (strained right oblique) could rejoin the roster in the next seven to 10 days.
• Right-hander David Robertson (sore right elbow) had a live batting practice scheduled earlier this week in Clearwater, Fla., but he threw a bullpen session instead because of rain. Robertson has rejoined the team, although they are not prepared to announce his next step.
• Major League Baseball suspended Hector Neris three games for hitting the Dodgers’ David Freese with a 95 mph fastball near his head on July 16. Neris will appeal, but he has not yet met with MLB officials. The Phillies expect Neris to be available this weekend against the Braves.