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Eflin sets K mark, but Phils' scuffle continues

@ToddZolecki
August 13, 2020

PHILADELPHIA -- If there is a path for the Phillies to make the postseason, Joe Girardi believes it is through the rotation. “We need them to continue to give us strong outings and continue to pitch the way they’re pitching if we’re going to make any noise,” the manager said

PHILADELPHIA -- If there is a path for the Phillies to make the postseason, Joe Girardi believes it is through the rotation.

“We need them to continue to give us strong outings and continue to pitch the way they’re pitching if we’re going to make any noise,” the manager said before Wednesday night’s 5-4 loss to the Orioles at Citizens Bank Park.

Box score

The Phillies have concerns, most noticeably in the bullpen, but also in some struggles from key everyday players. Those concerns account for the team’s 5-8 start and four losses in the past five games. But the rotation has held its own, offering some semblance of hope.

Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin struck out a career-high 10 batters in six innings, although he allowed four runs. One run in the third inning came on a solo home run from Anthony Santander that nicked the bottom of the right-field foul pole. Similarly hit balls would have had an expected batting average of just .120. Eflin allowed two runs in the fourth, which included a Dwight Smith Jr. bloop double that left his bat at 71.0 mph and a two-run bloop single from Chance Sisco that left his bat at 69.3 mph.

Eflin got 19 swings and misses for the fourth-highest whiff rate (35.0 percent) of his career. He continued to lean on his sinker, which got nine whiffs.

“It feels like the puzzle is coming together for me,” he said. “But it sucks to look up and see four runs after an outing like that. I felt really good about everything.”

“I think this is kind of what we should expect from him,” said catcher Andrew Knapp, who went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. “He’s kind of legitimized himself as that guy.”

The Phillies’ rotation entered the night with a 3.34 ERA, ranked seventh in baseball. It then turned to the bullpen, which began the night with a 10.19 ERA, and looked to an offense that has been inconsistent.

Left-hander Adam Morgan allowed a solo home run to Sisco on a 0-1 slider in the seventh. Morgan threw only three fastballs out of 17 pitches, averaging 91.2 mph with the pitch. His fastball averaged 92.3 mph in his first four appearances this season, 92.7 mph last year and 94.2 mph in his first two seasons as a reliever from 2017-18. Morgan battled an elbow injury last year, which led to a question about his health.

So, is the elbow OK?

“I’m healthy,” Morgan said. “Everything feels good. The biggest thing is getting in a rhythm. The week off -- playing and not playing, not throwing -- is a huge factor in it.”

The Phillies hope Morgan is right. They need him. Badly.

“He’s a big part of our bullpen,” Girardi said. “We have to get him going. I know his velocity is down; we’re aware of that. I don’t know if it’s a result of last year, or just they don’t have the arm strength yet, just because of the starting and the stopping and the short Spring Training.”

The Phillies’ offense struggled after scoring a run in the second and two runs in the third to take a 3-1 lead. Rhys Hoskins, who had a couple late-inning hits in Tuesday’s crazy loss, grounded into three 5-4-3 double plays. He is the first Phillies player to ground into three double plays in a game since Placido Polanco did the same on June 25, 2010.

Hoskins slammed his helmet to the ground after his 5-4-3 ended the fourth.

He entered Wednesday with five hits across 11 at-bats in his previous three games, but all told Hoskins is batting .190 with a .404 on-base percentage this season. He has only two extra-base hits, no home runs and one RBI. Regardless, Hoskins has hit second in Girardi’s lineup ever since Opening Day.

“He’s just out front,” Girardi said. “He’s got to back the ball up. That’s how you get the ball in the air. It’s a timing issue. Again, I’ll say he’s been on base. He’s been on base for [Bryce Harper] and J.T. [Realmuto] a lot. Probably as much as anyone we have except for Harp. There’s no plans on moving him right now.

“I’ll continue to encourage him. Of course, there are going to be frustrations during the game. It’s how it affects him at work the next day that you worry about. As long as he’s able to come to work and do his work and doing everything he needs to do to be prepared, I don’t worry a whole lot about it. Sometimes a good snap helps you get out of things, too. Maybe it’ll work.”

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