Over their first two games, the Phillies introduced fans to their new-and-improved offense in spectacular fashion. Kyle Schwarber set the tone early with a leadoff home run in his first at-bat with the team on Friday, and his teammates carried that momentum on through Saturday, combining for a .964 OPS over their first two games with 18 hits, four of them home runs.
It was a different story in the Phillies’ 4-1 loss to Oakland on Sunday. Manager Joe Girardi opted to swap in some players who hadn’t gotten starts yet, like catcher Garrett Stubbs and third baseman Johan Camargo, which took Didi Gregorius and J.T. Realmuto out of the lineup. A’s starter Daulton Jefferies and four Oakland relievers held the Phillies to only three hits and three walks. The Phillies were making hard contact — Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and Matt Vierling all posted exit velocities of more than 100 mph throughout the game — but those baseballs didn’t fall until the end of the game, when second baseman Jean Segura launched a ninth-inning homer to right-center field. The Phillies weren’t working at-bats the way they had in the first two games.
“I didn’t really have a problem with our at-bats because I thought we hit a number of balls hard, and the young man was throwing strikes,” Girardi said. “So I didn’t really have problem with it. I just thought our guys ran into a little bad luck. We had five or six balls that we hit really hard that we got nothing for. And they had a couple of well-placed balls. That was the difference in the game.”
Rather than the titanic home runs that fans have come to expect from a lineup that includes Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, two of the Phillies’ three hits on Sunday were a bunt and a single. The A’s had more luck against the Phillies’ bullpen, which gave up seven hits and all four runs in five innings.
Eflin makes his 2022 debut
Phillies starter Zach Eflin held the A’s to two hits and two walks, and had three strikeouts in four shutout innings. It was a solid outing for Eflin, who is coming off knee surgery that he underwent last September and was originally projected to join the team in May. He spent the lockout rehabbing, with the goal of being ready for the start of the season.
Despite Eflin cutting his rehab period a few weeks short, he’s not as built up as some of the other Phillies starters. Both Kyle Gibson and Aaron Nola, who started the Phillies’ first two games, were able to pitch into the seventh inning, but were also coming off a longer ramp-up period in spring training. Nola made four starts in Clearwater, amounting to 14 ⅓ innings pitched. Gibson also made four starts, totaling 13 ⅔ innings, while Eflin made three starts, pitching 9 ⅓ innings.
“I don’t ever really feel like I have that little command out there, but I felt like I battled,” Eflin said, “My sinker was moving enough today to keep them off balance and keep them swinging, so I kind of just rode with it. And ultimately was happy with the way everything went. I’m glad I got four [innings] in there.
Eflin said he felt he had one more inning in him, but knows it’s important to be cautious as he continues to ramp up.
“It’s just one of those scenarios where I have to remind myself of what I’ve been through,” he said. “I’m still building up as it is. But it felt nice to get the training wheels off and get out there in a game.”
Eflin wasn’t as efficient against the A’s as he normally is; entering Sunday’s game, he had not issued more than two walks in 18 straight starts. His 3.6% walk rate was the lowest in baseball among pitchers with 400 batters faced. Two walks through four innings was out of character for him, and his high pitch count was, too; by the end of four innings, Eflin had thrown 68 pitches, far more than A’s starter Jefferies, who was at 32 pitches.
A good day for Camargo
Sunday marked utility man Johan Camargo’s first start, and he didn’t take long to put on a defensive clinic at third base. In the top of the second inning, A’s left fielder Billy McKinney popped a ball into foul territory. Camargo went after it and slid into the tarp along the left field line to make the catch. It was a tough play to make, and he made it on a windy day at Citizens Bank Park, no less.
“It was a fantastic play,” Girardi said. “He had a good day. Base hit, a walk. He’s a really good defender.”
Camargo followed that up with line single to left field in the fifth inning. Girardi said before the game that the infielder, whom the Phillies signed in December, is the team’s best defensive third baseman.
Bullpen’s mixed showing
Left-hander Bailey Falter came in for Eflin at the top of the fifth inning, and struggled. He allowed two earned runs on four hits (one of them a home run by Billy McKinney) with two strikeouts through 2 ⅓ innings of work. Falter is a young pitcher — last year, in his first MLB season, he pitched 33 ⅔ innings for the Phillies — but as a bullpen arm who can pitch multiple innings, the team will be leaning on him this first month of the season.
Right-hander Connor Brogdon had a more positive showing. In two-thirds of an inning, he allowed one hit and struck out one, and saw his velocity hit 94-95 mph a few times (he is normally in the 95-96 mph range). Damon Jones, who had just one-third of an inning’s worth of major league experience entering Sunday’s game, entered after Brogdon. He allowed two earned runs in 1 ⅓ innings, with one walk, one hit batsman, and two strikeouts.