Skip to content
Extra Innings
Link copied to clipboard

Are the Phillies taking a leap by depending on Zach Eflin as the No. 3 starter? | Extra Innings

After Eflin posted a 3.65 ERA and 47-to-6 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in his final six starts last season, the Phillies believe he’s poised to grab the No. 3 job.

Phillies officials have been talking up Zach Eflin, center, as the No. 3 starter next season behind Aaron Nola, right, and Zack Wheeler.
Phillies officials have been talking up Zach Eflin, center, as the No. 3 starter next season behind Aaron Nola, right, and Zack Wheeler.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

At last, the stove is heating up.

It took 69 days, but the Phillies finally hired a new head of baseball operations last week. Dave Dombrowski isn’t any executive, either. He’s the only general manager to build World Series teams in three cities.

“Everywhere he goes, he’s there to compete and win,” agent Scott Boras said. “And he has done so.”

Dombrowski insists the Phillies require “a retool, not a rebuild.” But his offseason to-do list is lengthy, and not just because he’s starting late. If the Phillies are going to end a nine-year playoff drought, they need almost an entirely new bullpen and perhaps a new catcher and shortstop, too.

“There won’t be a lot of sleep involved the next couple of weeks,” Dombrowski said. “I’ve already received, I bet you, from at least half the general managers in Major League Baseball, ‘Welcome back. Congratulations. Let’s talk.’ ”

Yes, let’s.

You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every Thursday during the Phillies offseason, but we will be on a two-week hiatus because of the coming holidays. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.

— Scott Lauber (

Phillies counting on big things from Zach Eflin

Not long after Dombrowski rolled up his sleeves, charged up his phone and got to work, he identified what he believes to be an area of strength on the Phillies roster.

“When you talk about Nola, Wheeler and Eflin,” he said, “that’s a good place to start.”

High praise for Zach Eflin, no?

Over the last three seasons, Aaron Nola has worked 486 innings, more than any other pitcher in baseball save for Jacob deGrom (489). Zack Wheeler ranks fourth in average fastball velocity (96.9) among starters with at least 300 innings since 2018. Nola and Wheeler have 10.8 wins above replacement, tied for eighth among starters.

Eflin? He has a 104 ERA+ (100 is league average) since 2018, 36th among 50 pitchers with at least 350 innings. In most discussions of the Phillies rotation, he often tended to get lumped in with Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta.

For stretches, though, Eflin was one of the better pitchers in the National League. And after he finished last season with a 3.65 ERA and 47-to-6 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in his final six starts, the Phillies believe he’s poised to grab the No. 3 starter job.

It isn’t blind optimism, either. Eflin carried a 2.83 ERA through 14 starts in the 2019 season and was getting All-Star consideration. Last season, he returned to leaning on his sinker and got more aggressive with his curveball.

At age 26, there are reasons to think he has not yet peaked.

“He’s got that inside him,” Bryce Harper said late in the season. “He’s got that [No.] 2, 3 kind of guy in our rotation, where he can go out and dominate a team on any given night when his sinker is playing. I have all the confidence in the world of him doing that against anybody we play.”

The rundown

Between them, Dombrowski and Joe Girardi own six World Series rings. As Bob Brookover writes, their mandate with the Phillies is clear: Win.

After all these years as opponents, Girardi is happy to finally be on Dombrowski’s side, Matt Breen writes.

I dived into Dombrowski’s long history of bullpen construction in hopes that it might inform the Phillies’ forthcoming remake.

The Mets are out of the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes. Here’s what it means for the Phillies’ chances to re-sign the popular catcher.

Re-signing Realmuto and fixing the bullpen would represent a solid offseason for Dombrowski, as Brooky writes.

Wondering what Harper thinks of the Phillies’ intention to lower the payroll? Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, weighed in here (and made his Jackie Bradley Jr. sales pitch).

Dombrowski is, more or less, Pat Gillick 15 years ago. Middleton is betting on Dombrowski’s matching Gillick’s success with the Phillies.

Important dates

Jan. 15: Teams and players exchange salary arbitration figures.

Jan. 26: Hall of Fame voting results announced, 6 p.m.

Feb. 27: COVID-permitting, Phillies’ spring-training opener vs. Blue Jays.

April 1: Opening day vs. Braves at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

The Phillies existed for 81 years before Larry Shenk got hired in 1964, although you might not have known it. They were the only major-league team that didn’t publish a media guide, and ownership, citing printing costs, wasn’t about to start.

So, Shenk did what any eager rookie public-relations director would: He created his own.

“My wife, Julie, and I made 360 media guides by hand, which were approximately 8″ x 4″ horizontal,” Shenk wrote in If These Walls Could Talk: Philadelphia Phillies, his 2014 book. “Using a red magic marker, she colored a Phillies hat on the covers. The text was printed by a mimeograph machine. We cut the paper and punched two holes for binding purposes. Our living room was virtually unlivable for a few days.”

Julie Shenk died Wednesday after being sick with COVID-19.

Condolences to Larry and the Shenk family.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Answer: Hey, Alec. Thanks for the question. As Girardi noted this week, Andrew Knapp is the only major-league-ready catcher on the roster, so the Phillies can’t really take a “J.T. or bust” stance.

I think you’ll see them linked to other free-agent catchers. None would match Realmuto’s offense, but a defense-first approach behind the plate has worked for good teams in the past. One name to watch: Curt Casali, who caught new pitching coach Caleb Cotham at Vanderbilt and worked with him in Cincinnati.

The tricky part, of course, is knowing how long to hold out. (Mike Zunino came off the board Wednesday.) If Realmuto doesn’t choose a team until, say, February, the Phillies will need to make sure they aren’t left standing when the music stops.

Answer: Thanks, @ocmdhuk. This isn’t a matter of investment. The Phillies, like every other team, draft players and operate a farm system to oversee their development.

They just haven’t been very good at it.

A large-scale rebuilding project that began in 2015 has not yielded enough top-level major-league talent beyond Nola, Rhys Hoskins and probably Alec Bohm. As a result, the Phillies turned to expensive free agents to build a contending team. That approach doesn’t usually work without a homegrown core.

Dombrowski has conceded the Phillies are more than one player from winning the World Series. But he also doesn’t think they need to fall back into another rebuilding phase. It will be up to him to figure out how to take the organization forward.