Ready for ‘special' day, Zach Eflin set to make latest debut in Phillies' rebuild


TORONTO — Zach Eflin was reviewing his previous outing with the staff in Lehigh Valley when he got the news he was headed to the big leagues to join the Phillies on the road in Toronto.

Four years after the San Diego Padres drafted him 33rd overall, Eflin will make his major-league debut on Tuesday as the Phillies wrap up a brief two-game interleague series north of the border.

“It’s been unbelievable, you know obviously it’s a dream come true, I’ve always wanted this to happen ever since I was a kid and for it to finally happen and come true, is something special,” Eflin said on Monday afternoon. “I’m just really looking forward to getting out there on the mound tomorrow.”

The 22-year-old will start in place of the injured Vince Velasquez, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Friday with a right biceps strain suffered last Wednesday (see latest injury update).

Eflin, acquired by the Phillies from the Dodgers in the December 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade, has had a solid start to the season with the Triple A Lehigh Valley IronPigs, going 5-2 in 11 starts, with a 2.90 ERA, 55 strikeouts and 11 walks.

He credits his increase in strikeouts to his offseason preparation. Last season, Eflin struck out 68 in 23 Double A starts.

“Better sequencing of pitches this year,” Eflin said. “Really attacking ahead with my fastball down in the zone, really brushing back guys, pitching inside — kind of naturally came, it’s not anything I was trying to work on or anything [because] I know I can strike out guys when I need to.

“It’s cool to see improvements, especially when you go into a season with a game plan, preparation and you’re executing pitches.”

The 6-foot-6, 215-pound Orlando, Florida, native will be thrown into the fire against a Blue Jays team that took three of four games from the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles heading into Monday’s series opener against the Phillies.

Toronto’s bats seem to have come alive as the Blue Jays outscored the Orioles 30-24 over the four games.

“I told him, I said, 'The sooner you can believe you’re a major-league pitcher, the better off you’re going to be,'” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “Convince yourself you belong here from first pitch out instead of hoping or wondering you can.

“He’s got good enough stuff, most of those guys have good enough stuff. I told him, if you make your pitches, you’re going to be fine. If you make mistakes over the plate, you’re going to get hurt. It’s as simple as that so don’t think it’s any different. It’s probably the only difference that you don’t get away with many mistakes. Between here and the minor leagues, you don’t get away with any mistakes.”

Eflin found out he was getting the call up last Friday, which allowed him plenty of time to make arrangements for family to be in attendance at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday afternoon. In total, he’ll have seven friends and family on hand to watch.

“They already had [their passports] thankfully,” he said. “I’m going to have seven people. It was nice finding out a little early so they could all get prepared and let them know. “I’ve got my dad, both sisters, my grandparents, my girlfriend and her brother.”

First pitch on Tuesday is scheduled for 12:37 p.m. The Blue Jays will send RHP Marcus Stroman (5-2, 4.94) to the mound.

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