By Harry Allison
Zach Eflin owns the Braves.
“It’s a thrill for me to be able to look back and see how hard I worked then come out here, put up zeros, and keep the game as close as possible,” Eflin said of his journey from double knee surgery this offseason to the major league rotation in the third week of the season.
Yesterday’s start, which sealed a 5-2 Phillies win and a series sweep of Atlanta, was a seven-inning showcase in which the 23-year-old used just 89 pitches to navigate the Braves’ lineup with efficiency and command.
“I did a good job of getting ahead in the count and getting early contact, trusting my sinker,” Eflin said. “I stuck with that the whole game.”
Relying on his hard and heavy sinker, which Phillies manager Pete Mackanin described as a “bowling ball,” Eflin shut down the Phillies’ National League East rival for the second time.
In his first game against Atlanta in 2016, just his fifth Major League start, he notched his first career complete game.
Today’s line looked similar, his sharp command limiting runners by minimizing walks and inducing weak contact early in the count. He didn’t work in a three-ball count until the fourth inning, and had just four against the 25 batters he faced.
In two games against Atlanta, Eflin is sporting a 1.13 ERA and 0.56 WHIP. His combined line from the two games: 16 innings, 9 hits, two runs, no walks, nine strikeouts.
After a shaky first inning in his first start five days earlier when he walked three men and allowed two runs against the Mets, Eflin has locked down opposing hitters.
Since that inning, he has retired 33 of the 39 batters he’s faced without allowing a walk.
That sequence, an initial struggle and a return to form, reminded Mackanin of Eflin’s rocky debut with the Phillies last June that Eflin immediately responded to with seven starts of 2.08-ERA pitching.
“He’s been here before,” Mackanin said. “Remember his first outing against Toronto last year he was all over the place, up in the zone couldn’t throw a quality strike? And immediately thereafter he became a good pitcher.”