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July 05, 2016

Backed by barrage of home runs, Eflin goes distance in win over Braves

For the first time this season, there was a sticky, sweaty feeling inside the 13-year-old South Philadelphia ballpark on One Citizens Bank Way.

Or as former World Series-winning manager Charlie Manuel used to say, “It’s hittin’ weather, son.”

Zach Eflin, however, barely broke a sweat.

Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche, and Maikel Franco, the three leaders of the offense's resurgence, hit home runs and rookie Zach Eflin fashioned the Phillies second complete game of the season in a dominating 5-1 win over the Braves.

Just two weeks after the lineup looked comatose, scoring a grand total of five runs in a four-game, weekend wraparound series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies offense no longer resembles the walking dead but instead some kind of baseball Frankenstein machine.

"I think everyone puts together good at-bats, and that puts pressure on the pitcher out there to make his pitches, and that’s when they start leaving stuff over the plate and as an offense that’s when you have to execute and put the ball hard in play," Bourjos said. "That’s kind of what we’ve been doing for the last week or so, getting into good hitter’s counts and not missing the pitches we need to hit."

The Phillies offense has hit nine home runs in the team's last three games, equaling their home run total in the 10 games stretch that preceded it. Tommy Joseph also joined the home run parade on Tuesday.

"I think the wind started blowing out for us," Mackanin quipped. "I don't know how to explain it, but I'm happy. I felt all along that these guys were not as bad as we showed offensively early."

With the way offense was resembling the 2009 Phillies and with Eflin was summoning his inner Greg Maddux (he needed just 92 pitches for a complete game), the final score may as well have read 11-1. The game never felt that close.

Eflin threw the first complete game under 100 pitches by a Phillies pitcher in more than four years (Kyle Kendrick, 5-26-2012).

"An awesome feeling," Eflin said.

Eflin became the first Phillies rookie to throw a complete game in his first major league win since Carlton Loewer did so on June 14, 1998. When did Eflin think he had a chance to go the distance?

"As soon as I stepped on the mound," he said. "I always have the mentality. I want to go as long as I can."

The Phillies (39-46) have won three straight and seven of their last eight games. After failing to win a series for 6 1/2 weeks, the Phillies have won three series in a row and will try to complete a three-game sweep over the Braves on Wednesday afternoon.

With a win on Wednesday, the Phillies would collect their 40th victory of the season. They didn’t win their 40th game last season until July 31.

The home runs heroes were aplenty on Tuesday night.

Bourjos ripped the first of the night on an 0-2 pitch from Atlanta starter Mike Foltynewicz. Bourjos, who hit .199 in 48 games in the season’s first two months, is hitting a major league-best .418 in 29 games since June 1. He has three home runs, three doubles, and two triples in his last 14 games.

While Bourjos has reclaimed a starting spot in the outfield, Asche has taken ownership of the third spot in the lineup. He followed Bourjos’ first-inning homer with a double and ripped a home run in his second at-bat of the night. Asche is hitting .289 with five home runs, 13 doubles, and a team-high .869 OPS in 31 games since being activated off the disabled list last month.

"He's changed his swing path," Mackanin said of Asche, who entered the season with a .246 average and .693 OPS in 200 career big league games. "He has a different approach at the plate. His swing is shorter. We're trying to get these guys to have shorter swings and go right to the ball instead of all the necessary movement."

Franco has also heated up with the weather. He has homered in three consecutive games (a career best). He has six multi-hit games in his last eight games. Franco is hitting .409 (18-for-44) with four home runs in his last 11 games.

And then there was Eflin, who arrived to the Phillies organization a year and a half ago in the trade that sent franchise hit king Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Eflin, who only turned 22 in April, finished off the Braves in 2 hours and eight minutes. The only thing standing in between Eflin and a shutout was a leadoff home run from Ender Inciarte to lead off the seventh inning.

"He made one mistake to Inciarte, but I'll forgive him for that," Mackanin joked. "What an efficient job he did. He was just outstanding. He pounded the strike zone with all of his pitches. A good two-seamer. He had everything going for him. 

"I especially liked that last inning where he just went right after them and put them away 1-2-3. So it was great to see. It saved our bullpen."

Since his disastrous MLB debut in Toronto three weeks earlier, Eflin has a 2.03 ERA in his last four starts. He has struck out 13 and walked just one batter in 26 2/3 innings over that four-game span.

"You have to learn after every outing," Eflin said. "I take notes. Watching (Jerad Eickhoff) the day before really helped with pitching sequences and what not."

The copious homework since that debut (8 ER in 2 2/3 innings) helped put Eflin into a position he won't soon forget, getting a chance to start what he finished in his second career start at Citizens Bank Park.

"I threw that last pitch and I was just shaking," he said, "thanking God for the opportunity to be out there."

  • The three front-runners from Thursday's spot start at Coors Field against the Colorado Rockies: left-handers Adam Morgan and Brett Oberholtzer and Triple-A right-hander David Buchanan. Since neither long-man in the 'pen (Morgan and Oberholtzer) were needed in the last two days, all signs point to Morgan.

Morgan was throwing in the bullpen in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's game, perhaps getting in a starter's regular in-between-starts bullpen session in preparation for Thursday. 

 Morgan is 1-6 with a 6.55 ERA in 11 starts this season. He moved to the bullpen when Vince Velasquez returned from the disabled list last week. Aaron Nola, who is having his last start of the first half skipped to give him a physical and mental breather in his first full season, will rejoin the rotation after the break.

  Aaron Altherr has began taking live batting practice on his rehab in Clearwater, Fla., and he is expected to begin an official rehab assignment in the next week or so, according to general manager Matt Klentak. Altherr had left wrist surgery in March and was expected to be sidelined 4-to-6 months.
  Since Klentak said Altherr will need to equivalent of a spring training since he's "starting from scratch" (he hasn't played in games since last season), it's unlikely that Altherr will return to the Phillies before mid-August.

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