Eflin continues mastery of Judge, Yanks in Rays' 10-inning shutout

April 20th, 2024

NEW YORK -- It's not easy to shut out the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, but dominates the Bronx Bombers. And with Eflin back at the top of his game Saturday, the Rays did it.

After a pitchers' duel between Eflin and Nestor Cortes, José Caballero's RBI double broke a scoreless tie in the 10th inning and lifted the Rays to a series-evening 2-0 win over New York -- Tampa Bay's first shutout in the Bronx since Aug. 15, 2022.

"He was really, really sharp," manager Kevin Cash said of Eflin. "To shut down that team, everybody's got to play a role, and it felt like everybody on the pitching staff did -- but certainly led by Ef."

Eflin pitched six scoreless innings for Tampa Bay, allowing only three hits and collecting six strikeouts, for his second straight scoreless outing. The right-hander went 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the Angels on Monday.

After rocky starts on Opening Day against the Blue Jays and April 8 against the Angels, Eflin is starting to look a lot more like the pitcher who finished sixth in American League Cy Young Award voting last season.

Eflin has lowered his ERA to 3.68 thanks to his 12 1/3-inning scoreless streak. And this is the first time in Eflin's career that he has gone at least six scoreless innings in consecutive outings.

Of course it came against the Yankees. In six career starts against New York -- four of those with the Rays -- Eflin is 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 35 innings. That ERA is Eflin's lowest against any team he has made at least five starts against.

It's also the third-lowest ERA by any active Major League pitcher who has thrown at least 25 innings against the Yankees, behind only the Blue Jays' Chris Bassitt (1.00) and the Red Sox's Brayan Bello (1.45).

"I think I pretty much treat every team the same," Eflin said. "Just go out there, be competitive and see where it takes you."

Eflin might treat the Yankees the same as every other team, but he has their number. Look no further than how he has overmatched superstar slugger Aaron Judge.

Eflin punctuated Saturday's outing by striking out Judge to end the sixth inning and stranding Juan Soto in scoring position -- and that was his third time striking out Judge in the game.

Eflin has dominated Judge since joining the Rays. Judge is just 1-for-12 against Eflin with eight strikeouts.

The Rays right-hander has struck out Judge in six straight at-bats going back to the last time the two squared off on Aug. 25, 2023, when Eflin also fanned Judge all three times he faced him. Eflin is just the second pitcher to strike out Judge three times in a game multiple times; Trevor Bauer has done so three times.

Eflin has put Judge away with a steady diet of breaking balls, using his curveball-sweeper pairing to consistently get the better of one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball.

The pitches he has used to get those eight strikeouts against Judge: curveball, curveball, sweeper, sweeper, sweeper, curveball, curveball, sweeper.

Judge took seven swings against Eflin on Saturday. He whiffed all seven times.

That's just perfect execution of what's really a very simple approach for Eflin vs. Judge, whom he has been facing since he was in the Minor Leagues:

"Make sure he doesn't make contact with the ball," Eflin said. "That's really just the game plan the entire time facing him."