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August 19, 2016

Zach Eflin undergoes season-ending surgery (and is likely to need another procedure, too)

Zach Eflin is joining fellow right-hander Aaron Nola on the sidelines for the remainder of the 2016 season.

But unlike Nola, Eflin had to undergo season-ending surgery. And it seems likely he’ll need a second procedure within the next two months, too.

Prior to Friday’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said that Eflin, the rookie who dazzled shortly after joining the rotation in June, underwent successful surgery to repair his right patella tendon on Friday morning in Philadelphia.

After he recovers from that procedure, roughly six weeks according to Klentak, Eflin will likely need a similar procedure on his left knee, too.

“It seems like that’s where it’s headed,” Klentak said. “We’ll have to see how he responds with the right knee. If everything goes according to plan, then, yeah, we’d likely perform a procedure with the left one.”

As with the case of Nola, who was shut down earlier this week with an elbow injury, a low-grade UCL sprain and a low-grade flexor strain in his right arm, the expectation is that Eflin will be healthy once the Phillies open camp in Clearwater, Fla., in six months.

“If everything proceeds according to plan, he should be no problem for spring training. We’ll see,” Klentak said.

The 22-year-old Eflin, acquired in the December 2014 trade that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers, emerged as the best of the prospect-rich rotation that began the season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. Eflin went 5-2 with a 2.90 ERA and 0.878 WHIP in 11 starts with the IronPigs, earning a promotion to the Phillies rotation when Vince Velasquez was placed on the disabled list in June.

After a rough debut in Toronto, Eflin showed off the same repertoire that made him one of the top pitchers in the International League. In a monthlong run from June 19 to July 22, Eflin went 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA, a 4.8 K-BB rate, and two complete games, including a shutout.

But he struggled in each of his three most recent starts (at least six earned runs in each game) and was placed on the DL earlier this month with tendinitis in his knees. Additionally, Eflin said he had a stress fracture in his right foot (which Klentak said would heal on its own as he recovers from right knee surgery).

As long as Eflin recovers without issue this fall, he should be a front-runner for a rotation spot when the 2017 season begins.

“Absent the one tough start in Toronto, I thought he was pretty damn good,” Klentak said. “What I like about his especially is that what he was in spring training is what he was at the minor-league level this year and is what he was when he came up to the big leagues – he didn't really change anything. He knows his strengths, he knows what he's good at. He fills up the strike zone. He lets the movement on the ball do the work for him. He works quickly. He's efficient. That's pretty good.

“Sometimes players come to the big leagues and they adjust their own style to the style of the league before they need to. What I like about Zach is he knows who he is and he pitched to his strengths.”

The hope is that the surgery (or surgeries) will finally give Eflin relief from the knee issues he's dealt with since childhood.

"This is an issue he’s been fighting since he was a kid," Klentak said. "I think he told me since he was 11-years-old, he first started battling knee problems. The hope here is that it’s going to alleviate the problem. And that he’s not going to have to deal with it. And in just talking candidly with Zach last night, while not excited to undergo the knife today, he was pretty excited about the possibility of coming to spring training next year pain-free for the first time in his life."

Eflin was moved to the 60-day disabled list to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Emmanuel Burris, who is starting in place of Cesar Hernandez as second base on Friday night. Burris replaced Taylor Featherston on the active roster; Featherston was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Hernandez is day-to-day with a right foot injury; he fouled a ball off the foot earlier this week. Klentak said Hernandez had an X-ray on Thursday night and that it showed no fractures.

“He should be available if we need him,” Klentak said, “we’re just trying to give him some extra rest.”

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