PHILADELPHIA – The Phillies could use one more start like this from Zach Eflin in the regular season.
He tossed a four-hit shutout Friday in a 7-0 victory over the Blue Jays in Game 1 of a seven-inning doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. It was Eflin’s penultimate start of the season, as he is scheduled to make his final start on Wednesday against the Nationals in Washington, D.C.
But Friday’s was a big one following Philadelphia's back-to-back losses to the Mets, including two nightmarish performances from the bullpen. The Phillies needed him to pitch well, not just because they desperately needed a win to stay in the postseason picture, but because they also needed to stay away from the bullpen.
Eflin (3-2) struck out nine and walked two in his seven innings.
It is the third shutout of Eflin’s career, and his first since May 11, 2019, in Kansas City. Since '04, Eflin is just the fourth Phillies pitcher with three or more shutouts. Cliff Lee (eight), Cole Hamels (seven) and Roy Halladay (five) are the others. Since Eflin’s big league debut in 2016, only two pitchers have thrown more than three shutouts: Corey Kluber (six) and Ervin Santana (four).
It was the fifth complete game of Eflin’s career, too.
“It’s not necessarily something you think about before the game. But you guys know me -- every single time I go out, I want to pitch the whole game,” Eflin said. “That’s not going to change, regardless of the circumstances. I obviously knew that I wanted to go all seven, and I needed to go all seven.”
Eflin allowed a single to Cavan Biggio in the bottom of the first -- the Blue Jays were the “home” team in Game 1 following postponements earlier this season -- but struck out Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández swinging on curveballs in order after the hit.
“We had a game plan going in and mixing in a little more offspeed,” Eflin said. “So, that worked out obviously in the first inning and kind of carried that momentum. I was having good spin on it and knew it was going to work, so I just kind of went with that and made them respect all the pitches I was throwing up there.”
Eflin has shown this stuff most of the season, although his line does not necessarily reflect that. He has a 4.28 ERA, but Eflin is generating the weakest contact of his career. Entering Friday, his expected statistics -- like expected batting average (.236), expected wOBA (.298) and expected ERA (3.48) -- were career lows.
“I feel like I’ve clearly had my best stuff of my career and kind of run into some bad luck,” Eflin said. “I’ve made some bad pitches along the way, too. But I’m happy with where I’m at. I have more confidence than ever, and I’m really just trying to carry that momentum on for as long as I can.”
The Phillies finished Game 1 with 10 games remaining on the season. They have been hit hard with injuries. They have the worst bullpen in baseball. Their organizational depth has been exposed over the past couple weeks.
But here is the thing: If the Phillies can make the playoffs, they will have Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler lined up to pitch two of the first three games in the Wild Card Series. If Eflin is on like he was on Friday, he could cause problems in a best-of-three matchup.
“The more I pitch, the better I think I’m going to get,” Eflin said. “I always want the ball. I never shy away from the ball.”