By Sam Bush
For Phillies starter Zach Eflin, last night’s games against the Marlins was a matter of sinker or swim.
“It had been three or four weeks in the making,” Eflin said. “Going back to the rotation, I was pretty dead set on doing it.”
Eflin allowed two runs in six innings, threw just 79 pitches, including 37 sinkers.
According to MLB.com, it was his highest percentage of sinkers (46.8 percent) in a start since May 23, 2017 (58.8 percent).
“If Zach Eflin is getting the ball on the ground, something good is happening,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “So obviously swings and misses are nice and there are going to be times for those and right now he’s focusing on weak contact, efficiency and getting the ball on the ground and being successful with that approach.”
Eflin threw his sinker 29.8 percent of the time from 2016-17. It dropped to 12.9 percent from 2018 through July 27, when he made his final start before the demotion to the bullpen. He has thrown his sinker 39.4 percent of the time in his last two starts.
“It definitely feels a lot more comfortable,” he said. “There’s always a time for swing and miss and four-seams and whatnot, but fortunately for me I’ve always had a really good sinker.”
Eflin said he started to think about returning to his former self in the starts just before his demotion to the bullpen.
“I was really wanting to go back to sinkerballing and kind of getting early contact,” Eflin said. “That’s when I got moved to the bullpen. It was kind of tough to figure out again what I wanted to do from the bullpen, whether I wanted to keep doing the swing-and-miss stuff or if I wanted to start implementing my sinker.”
He said he did not have to twist the arm of pitching coach Chris Young to return to what he considers his strength.
“He was all for it,” Eflin said. “We simply sat down and talked about it and I told him what I thought I was best at doing. At the end of the day, it’s a two-way street. They want what’s best for me as well.
“If I’m at my best going out there throwing sinkerballs and getting early contact and going really late in the game, then that’s what’s going to be best for the team. There was no point where they were against me saying anything about it.”
The throw-strikes-swing-early-pitch-deep philosophy has worked for countless pitchers in the past. Eflin believes it can work for him in the future, too.
“I have to do what I have to do to be the best version of me on the field,” Eflin said. “If that’s it, that’s what I’m going to do.”