The battle for the NL East was on center stage at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night, but the most important development of the evening may have occurred 50 miles east in Lakewood, N.J. It was there that 26-year-old Seranthony Dominguez took his next step in a comeback bid that has been two years in the making, throwing 19 pitches and striking out two in a scoreless first inning for the Class A Jersey Shore BlueClaws. The appearance, Dominguez’s second since returning from Tommy John surgery, is generating some cautious optimism on the Phillies’ bench as Joe Girardi turns his eyes toward the stretch run.

“I think you’ve got to let him pitch here for a while,” the Phillies manager said Friday before Dominguez’s outing. “And obviously, at some point, you hope that he can go back-to-back. But if he can’t, I think you can deal with it. You just watch every one. Eventually, it will go to every other day, that sort of thing. Just being cautious at the beginning and making sure that he feels good. But right now, everything is good.”

The Phillies have yet characterize their big league expectations for Dominguez, who is a year and a week removed from surgery to repair the ulnar colateral ligament in his right arm, a procedure that followed nearly a year of uncertainty regarding his health. But Girardi was cautiously optimistic after watching video of the 26-year-old right-hander’s first outing, a perfect inning in which he struck out two of the three batters he faced.

“For a guy that hasn’t pitched really in two years and two months, I thought it was pretty good,” Girardi said.

There’s a reason the manager is keeping a close eye on the situation. As a 23-year-old rookie in 2018, Dominguez looked like the kind of reliever who can make a major impact on a playoff race. In 58 innings, he posted a 2.95 ERA while striking out 11.5 and walking 3.4 batters per nine innings. Even in 2019, when he began to battle arm issues, Dominguez posted the kind of line that would bolster this year’s bullpen, with a 4.01 ERA, 10.6 K/9 and 4.4 BB/9. The trade deadline has come and gone, but the addition of that kind of arm to the playoff race could be bigger than any move the Phillies could have made.

Hoskins sits

The goal right now is to keep Rhys Hoskins off the injured list. That meant resting his sore groin on Friday night against the Mets, as Brad Miller got the start at first base. Hoskins missed the Phillies’ three-game series against the Pirates but went 5-for-14 against the Nationals with a home run and two doubles. Heading into Friday night, he was hitting .244/.332/.509 with 24 home runs.

“We knew that going through this, we kind of go day to day,” Girardi said. “He’s just sore.”

Eflin update

The Phillies are hopeful that Zach Eflin will soon be back on a mound and pushing toward a return from the knee tendinitis that has sidelined him since July 21. That said, the right-hander still appears to be weeks away from reinstatement from the injured list. He has yet to throw off a mound, and will need some sort of rehab assignment before returning.

“Still not quite from the mound,” Girardi said. “I think we’re getting closer and we’ll just keep our fingers [crossed] that he’ll be back pretty soon.”

Eflin has a 4.17 ERA in 18 starts, along with solid peripherals of 8.4 K/9, 1.4 BB/9 and 1.3 HR/9.