KANSAS CITY -- Zach Eflin hit a few speed bumps in mid-April, but it has been smooth sailing for the Phillies’ polished right-hander over the last couple of weeks.
Eflin turned in his third gem in a row with an efficient 7-0 victory over the Royals on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium. By pounding the strike zone and inducing early contact, Eflin made sure pitch count was never an issue in tossing his second career shutout. He now has three straight commanding wins following three straight losses from April 13-23.
Eflin got 27 outs on 110 pitches, with 21 of those pitches coming in the ninth. It was the fourth complete game of his career and the first shutout by a Phillies pitcher since Jeremy Hellickson blanked the Marlins on Sept. 17, 2016.
Eflin has developed a special chemistry with backup catcher Andrew Knapp, who did the navigating for Eflin again on Saturday.
“It’s really just following the game plan,” Eflin said. “I can’t give Knapp enough credit. He knows what I’m best at and we’ve been together since Double-A.”
Eflin had only one tenuous inning. In the fourth, he hit consecutive batters to load the bases with two out when the Phillies had a 3-0 lead. Eflin hit right-handed batters Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler while trying to protect the inside part of the plate. He managed to escape the jam when Ryan O’Hearn grounded out.
“That was big,” Eflin said. “I didn’t really have good footing on the mound that inning and my mechanics were a little off. I was just happy I wasn’t leaving balls over the middle of the plate. If I’m going in, I’d rather go in-in than miss over the middle of the plate.”
Eflin got all the offense he needed in the third inning, thanks largely to a clutch two-out, two-run single by Rhys Hoskins. Philadelphia, which was stymied in the series opener on Friday, had the bases loaded with one out against Royals starter Brad Keller. Bryce Harper struck out, but Hoskins picked him up by ripping his two-run single in what turned into a three-run inning.
“His efficiency stood out again,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Eflin. “He’s very comfortable having the opposition put the ball in play. There are so many guys who pitch away from contact in this game. He’s fearless.”
Kapler said he’s strongly opposed to a “personal catcher,” but loves the way Efliin and Knapp work together.
“[Knapp] has led in the ideal way when Eflin has been on the mound,” Kapler said.