Phillies pitching depth once again an issue with Eflin ailing


Remember how great everything went for Zach Eflin on the mound Saturday?

Apparently, things didn't go that great.

Eflin, you'll recall, breezed through four shutout innings against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday on just 39 pitches. He gave up just two hits, walked none, struck out four and was so darn efficient that he had to go to the bullpen and throw more pitches just to get his workload up to where it should be in the middle of spring training.

During that extra time in the bullpen, Eflin's back "flared up," manager Joe Girardi revealed on Wednesday. The right-hander, who had been having an outstanding spring, will not make his scheduled start Friday. 

Girardi said Eflin has shown improvement the last couple of days and was able to play catch Wednesday.

Nonetheless, with two weeks to go before opening day, this is not good news. Eflin slots into the No. 3 spot in the Phillies' rotation, which means his season debut would be April 4 against the Braves.

Can he get fully healthy and resume his preparation in time to be ready to make that start? Or will this push everything back?

Time will tell.

"We want to get him (throwing) off the mound as soon as we can," Girardi said. 

Girardi was asked about his level of concern for Eflin's condition.

"A little," he said. "But I like that there was a ton of progress the last few days and he was able to play catch today. That made me feel good.

"We're just going to have to wait and see."

The Phillies have reached the stage of spring training where players are zeroing in on opening day and fine-tuning their games with an overriding goal of staying healthy.

That's been a challenge in recent days.

To wit:

Utility man Brad Miller is sidelined with an oblique injury. His status for opening day is uncertain.

Reserve outfielder Matt Joyce, a solid candidate to make the club, has been slowed by hamstring soreness.

Shortstop Didi Gregorius, hit in the back of the head with a pitch Tuesday, continues to be monitored and will be re-evaluated Friday.

Pitcher Spencer Howard was scratched from his scheduled appearance on Monday because of back spasms. According to Girardi, he was still experiencing the issue Wednesday and there was no immediate timetable for his return to the mound.

Howard's place in all of this is important because he's the sixth starter on the Phillies' depth chart and would likely be the guy to fill in for Eflin, if need be.

With Howard and Eflin both ailing, the next guy up might be Vince Velasquez, who holds a place on the 40-man roster, which is noteworthy considering some of the roster issues the team could face in the final week of camp.

Though logic might dictate that the absence of Eflin and Howard would mean an opportunity for Velasquez, Girardi threw some intrigue into the equation when he announced that Ivan Nova would start on Friday. The veteran right-hander is in camp on a minor-league deal and not on the 40-man roster. Maybe the Phillies have seen enough of Velasquez over the last five seasons and simply want to get another look at Nova. All spring, Velasquez has looked like a trade candidate, but can the Phillies afford to move him with two starters potentially not being ready for opening day?

These are the types of questions front offices prefer not to be dealing with in the final two weeks of camp.

Eflin has a history with minor back issues. He dealt with back spasms during summer camp last year and in May 2019 spent time on the injured with back tightness.

Now this.

Stay tuned.

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