Phillies-Blue Jays 5 things: Zach Eflin makes MLB debut


Phillies (30-34) at Blue Jays (35-31)
12:37 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies look for a quick two-game sweep in Toronto this afternoon in a rare Tuesday afternoon contest before heading back to Philly to play these same Blue Jays at home Wednesday and Thursday.

Let's delve right into it:

1. Eflin's debut
Tuesday will mark the much anticipated major-league debut of 22-year-old right-hander Zach Eflin. It's fitting that Eflin is the first top Phillies prospect to earn a promotion to the bigs because he was also the first prospect acquired through one of their rebuilding trades. The Phillies' trade of Jimmy Rollins to the the Dodgers in December 2014 netted the Phils Eflin and lefty Tom Windle and also signified their clear turning of the page.

Eflin just turned 22 on April 8. He was the third-youngest pitcher in the International League but breezed through his competition, going 5-2 with a 2.90 ERA and 0.88 WHIP in 11 starts for Lehigh Valley. His opponents hit .199. But even his season numbers don't truly capture how dominant he was at times — Eflin didn't allow an earned run in five different starts and had six outings of one run or fewer.

Eflin takes the rotation spot of Vince Velasquez, who was placed on the 15-day DL last Friday with a right biceps strain. The Phillies had to add Eflin to their 40-man roster for the call-up, but they had a spot open.

Eflin, who stands 6-foot-6, was the Padres' first-round pick (33rd overall) out of Hagerty HS in Oviedo, Florida back in 2012. San Diego traded him to L.A. in a five-player deal in December 2014 that sent Yasmani Grandal to the Dodgers and Matt Kemp back to the Padres. The Dodgers then quickly flipped Eflin to the Phils for Rollins, who hit .224 in 563 plate appearances in his lone season in Dodger Blue.

In 2015, his first season in the Phillies' system, Eflin went 8-6 with a 3.69 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 23 starts. His control was excellent (1.6 walks per nine innings) but he struck out just 4.6 per nine. The Phillies wanted to see Eflin attack more this season with his four-seam fastball in an attempt to induce more swings-and-misses. They didn't want him to always have to rely on groundballs to get himself out of jams. 

Eflin obliged by striking out 7.2 batters per nine this season at an even higher minor-league level, while also cutting down even more on his walks (1.4). Eflin's strikeout rate has nearly doubled this season — he whiffed 12.6 percent of the batters he faced last season and 21 percent this year.

Eflin's fastball runs from 91 to 94 mph. He also has a changeup, curveball and slider. The changeup was effective against lefties at Triple A, as evidenced by their .202 batting average and .501 OPS against him. 

Eflin will wear No. 56, the same number worn in recent years by Nefi Ogando, Cesar Jimenez, Joe Blanton R.J. Swindle, Geoff Geary, Brandon Duckworth and Calvin Maduro.

2. Keep the offense alive
The Phillies broke out for seven runs in Monday's shutout win over the Blue Jays, their MLB-leading eighth shutout of the season but first since May 22. (The Dodgers also have eight.)

The offense, as usual, didn't do much while Jerad Eickhoff was in the game, scoring just one run, but the Phils put up three spots in the seventh and ninth innings to blow out the Blue Jays. 

From top to bottom, the Phillies produced. Odubel Herrera had a homer, an RBI single and an RBI groundout. Ryan Howard reached double-digits with his 10th home run. Carlos Ruiz reached base twice, Cody Asche walked twice, stole a base and scored two runs, and the 8-9 of Cesar Hernandez and Peter Bourjos combined to go 4 for 8 with two doubles, three RBIs and two runs.

The only Phillie who failed to reach base Monday night was Tommy Joseph.

Hitting this afternoon does figure to be tougher against Marcus Stroman.

3. Scouting Stroman
The Blue Jays' 25-year-old ace has struggled over his last five starts, allowing 26 earned runs in 29⅔ innings. His ERA has risen over that span from 3.54 to 4.94. 

Stroman (5-2, 4.94) came up with Toronto in 2014 and faced the Phillies once as a reliever. He went on to become their top starting pitcher before suffering an ACL tear in spring training 2015. He returned at the end of last season to make four starts in September and three in the playoffs.

Stroman's strikeout rate is down significantly this season, from 7.6 per nine in his rookie year to 6.0 now. His repertoire has changed over the last three years. As a rookie, he threw his four-seam fastball about 35 percent of the time and it averaged over 94 mph. Nowadays, he throws his sinker most of the time (56 percent) and it averages 92.7. He's thrown his four-seam fastball just 2.4 percent of the time.

Stroman also has a cutter, slider, changeup and curveball. Against same-handed hitters, the righty Stroman has thrown his sinker or slider 74 percent of the time. He utilizes the cutter much more against lefties. You'll see him start it over the plate and cut it in to jam lefties or use it as a backdoor pitch with two strikes.

Stroman is too good for his slump to last much longer. But the Phillies are happy to face him at Rogers Centre this week — Stroman has a 6.44 ERA at home compared to 3.40 on the road.

4. Franco still out
Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco remains out for a second straight game with a mild knee sprain. Andres Blanco is back in the lineup in Franco's place, batting third.

Here's the full Phillies lineup Tuesday in Toronto:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Andres Blanco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Ryan Howard, DH
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Peter Bourjos, RF

And for the Blue Jays:

1. Jose Bautista, DH
2. Josh Donaldson, 3B
3. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
4. Michael Saunders, LF
5. Russell Martin, C
6. Ezequiel Carrera, RF
7. Kevin Pillar, CF
8. Devon Travis, 2B
9. Ryan Goins, SS

Encarnacion and Martin were out of Toronto's lineup Monday.

5. This and that
• The Phillies' 7-0 win was their first victory on a Monday in their last 13 tries dating back to last July.

• Has Howard had a lousy year? Of course. But he also has more home runs this season than Victor Martinez, Ryan Zimmerman, Andrew McCutchen, Ian Desmond, Jose Abreu, Brian McCann and a whole bunch of other big names.

• The Phillies are just 3-9 against the Blue Jays since 2012.

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