The Phillies’ starting pitching continues to be unreal. It started with Aaron Nola, who had a quality start on Opening Day. Zack Wheeler was next as he dominated the Braves for seven innings on Saturday.
Then came right-hander Zach Eflin on Sunday afternoon. He also had his way against Atlanta. He ended up earning a no-decision, but the Phillies defeated the Braves, 2-1, at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
The Phillies swept the three-game series and held two of Atlanta’s best hitters, Ozzie Albies and Freddie Freeman, to a combined 0-for-21 in the series.
“I’m really pleased. Everyone did their job. The starters were really good, got us deep in the game. The bullpen came in and did their job,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “To limit this team like we did, it’s really not easy to do. [The Braves] are an explosive lineup and it’s extremely dangerous. Our guys executed pitches.”
Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud was impressed by what he saw from the Phillies’ pitching staff during the three-game series.
“Those guys get paid to get us out, too,” he said. “They did a tremendous job of executing pitches. Watching the replays, most of their pitches were on that [strike zone] box, you know, the lower part, the outside part and the upper part the whole series. So we just got to tip the cap to them.”
Eflin showed that his back issues were a thing of the past. He was rockin’ and rollin’ on the mound. Eflin knew entering the game he had to try to match what Nola and Wheeler did before him, and he did. He dominated for seven innings, allowing one run on four hits and a walk while striking out eight.
“I always try to top the guy that pitches before me — just use it as motivation to continue the streak of good pitching,” Eflin said. “It’s really nice to see the first two guys go out there and get the job done with confidence. To follow that lead is crucial for me. … I’m happy with the result.”
It looked like Eflin wasn’t going to be in the game long. He threw 23 pitches in the first inning but flipped the switch and needed only 31 to get through the next four innings. His sinker and fastball were the reasons the Braves looked confused at the plate.
In fact, through the first six innings, the Braves had runners in scoring position once — and that came in the third inning when right-hander Ian Anderson led off with a double. But he was quickly erased when Ronald Acuña Jr. lined into a double play.
“Really, I wanted to keep them guessing and just stress weak contact to the top of that lineup,” Eflin said. “They are a deep squad, so it’s important to keep them off the bases. I felt I did a good job with that.”
Eflin’s only blemish was a seventh-inning solo home run to d’Arnaud over the left-field wall that tied the score at 1. José Alvarado and Héctor Neris held Atlanta scoreless over the final two frames.
Maybe all the baseball experts who predicted this would be a breakout season for Eflin were right. He has heard the talk but doesn’t pay attention to the hype.
“I just go out there and do my job and be who I am as a person and player,” he said. “I think the rest of it is going to take care of itself. But it’s nice to be on a staff that believes in everybody, to be on a team that believes in everybody.
“It feels like we are all together. We’re excited to keep it going. There is a lot of confidence on this team, a lot of heart as you guys have seen this weekend. So, that’s the name of the game and we are looking forward to keeping it rolling.”
The Phillies ended up scoring what would be the winning run in the eighth inning when Rhys Hoskins scored on a single by Alec Bohm. It came as no surprise to Girardi. In late and close situations — plate appearances in the seventh inning or later where the Phillies were tied, led by one or had the tying run at least on deck — Bohm last year was 8-for-18 (.444) with six RBIs.
“He has come through time and time again,” Girardi said. “We feel pretty good about him when he is in that spot. He is not going to try to do too much.”