May 18, 2015
At one point, the radar gun in the stadium read 98. Even if that was a couple of miles per hour faster than reality, Zach Eflin was definitely bringing some extra heat on a humid Sunday afternoon at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Erie Seawolves lineup sure couldn’t figure him out, and the Reading Fightin Phils (19-16) took three of a four-game weekend set with a 2-1 victory behind yet another strong starting pitching performance.
If we want to be nitpicky about the 21-year-old righthander’s excellent outing (eight innings, four hits, one run), he only collected two strikeouts. That’s obviously not a ton, especially when you consider that his fastball sat in the mid-90s most of the day.
“It’s really not my game,” Eflin said. “I don’t go after guys to strike them out, I go after to get them out. Throw more strikes the longer you can go, throw to contact the longer you can go. My goal is just to go out and get as many innings as I can.”
I’m sure Reading manager Dusty Wathan and the Phillies would like to see Eflin’s fastball generate more whiffs, but there’s not much else to complain about right now. His ERA is 2.73, his WHIP is 1.03, and opponents are hitting .223 against him. Acquired from the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in the Matt Kemp and Jimmy Rollins trades, Eflin is settling in nicely after making a cross-country transition in the offseason.
While the point about going deep into games might be taken as a justification for the lack of strikeouts, Eflin has lasted eight innings in three of his six starts this season (well, it’s actually seven, but he got ejected in the second inning of the other one). He easily could’ve gone the distance after throwing 92 pitches yesterday, but Wathan decided eight was enough in part because Eflin had no room for error in the ninth with only a one-run lead. The skipper shook his pitcher’s hand, said job well done, and there was nothing Eflin could do about it.
“I wanted to,” Eflin said of possibly pitching another inning. “I wanted to real bad but sometimes they don’t let you go out, which is understandable.”
One of the first things you realize when interviewing Eflin is that he’s a big boy. Standing at 6-foot-4 and rocking size 16 cleats, the thing that stuck out most about watching him pitch is how many ways he’ll throw a fastball. There’s a major difference between a two-seamer at 88 and a four-seamer at 96, and Erie showed how difficult it could be to differentiate between the two. As Wathan mentioned after the game, there wasn’t much solid contact at all against Eflin outside of Brendan Harris’ homer.
Here’s what Eflin had to say about changing speeds on the ol’ number one: “It kind of throws the hitters off. Depending on the count is whether I’ll go soft or hard. If I’m looking for a groundball, I’ll go hard four-seam then soft two-seam just to get them to roll over. It’s a big part of my game.”
And here are his manager’s thoughts on the subject: “He does it on his own. The problem is sometimes he gets in trouble by subtracting too much off his fastball. That’s where he’s gotten in trouble, where he’ll take too much off and end up throwing 88, 89 instead of staying in between 91 and 96 or so.”
When working out of the windup, Eflin doesn’t operate with the total urgency of Cliff Lee, but he doesn’t waste much time out there either. It’s easy to tell that getting into a solid rhythm is a critical part of his game, one he’ll attempt to achieve proactively. The way he interacts with his teammates also seems to be somewhat reminiscent of Lee.
“He’s a kid that just loves baseball,” Wathan said. “If you go out there and watch today, we took some quick BP on a Sunday and he’s out there during stretch. I said, ‘Is there nobody in the clubhouse that you can talk to?’ He said, ‘I just love baseball. I want to be out here.’”
It seems pretty easy to love baseball with the way Zach Eflin is throwing right now. It’s still early, but the headliner in the Jimmy Rollins trade is off to a pretty, pretty good start in his new organization. By the way, here's the next installment of the award-winning scouting video I've taken in Reading over the past few days. In an odd coincidence, I was lucky enough to catch both of Eflin's K's:
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