The Phillies were just one of four teams to have three pitchers log 100 innings in the first half of the season. The Phillies entered the All-Star break earlier this month with a .500 record. It was nothing to celebrate, but imagine what their record could have been without the consistency of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Zach Eflin pitching every fifth day.
It took just five days into the second half for that scenario to become reality when Eflin landed on the injured list Tuesday with tendinitis in his right knee, an injury he does not think is serious but did require surgery in 2016.
The Phillies were already shopping for pitching ahead of next week’s trade deadline, but Eflin’s injury was a reminder of how important it is for them to add arms for the final two months of the season.
“You can always use arms, right?,” Rhys Hoskins said before Thursday’s series opener against Atlanta when asked where he thinks the Phils can upgrade before the July 30 deadline. “... We’re coming off this shortened 60-game season where guys threw maybe the least amount that they have in their life. You’re always worried about pitching injuries, but coming off a shortened season, that’s probably heightened a little bit. You can always use arms, whether it’s relievers or extra starters with guys throwing a lot of innings or the potential of being hurt. Depth, man. Any time you can add more depth in arms, it’s not going to hurt you.”
Eflin said earlier this week that his knee injury “just kind of popped up” during his last start on July 16. He has dealt with discomfort in both knees since having them surgically repaired at the end of 2016, but was able to manage it until now. Eflin said going on the injured list was a precaution to “nip it in the bud this go around and just be healthy the rest of the way through.”
But the Phillies were so thin on pitching without him that they had to replace him Wednesday at Yankee Stadium with a bullpen game. Spencer Howard started the game with three shutout innings and could start again if Eflin is not ready to return Monday. But that means the team’s plans to develop Howard in the minors would change again.
The current rotation is Wheeler, Nola, Matt Moore, Vince Velasquez, and a bullpen game. It’s hard to imagine the Phillies chasing down the Mets with those five starters. They scouted Cole Hamels last week in Texas, but a deal, as of earlier this week, was not imminent and the former Phil is believed to be at least a month away from pitching in the majors.
There will be plenty of arms available before July and the Phillies have explored those options. They have spoken to and scouted the Cubs (reliever Craig Kimbrel and starter Zach Davies), will spend the deadline in Pittsburgh (reliever Richard Rodriguez), and have an obvious need for Texas’ starter Kyle Gibson and closer Ian Kennedy.
But those five pitchers are some of the premium arms on the trading block, which means they’ll come with a cost of prospects along with the likelihood of pushing the Phillies over the threshold of the competitive-balance tax for the first time.
The Phillies could be motivated to do both, but that motivation would be much less if they have a losing record on July 30.
They entered Thursday at .500 with eight games at home before the trade deadline. The players have talked about putting pressure on the front office to make moves and the next week is their closing statement. Eflin’s injury is a reminder of just how important that statement is.
“It’s a huge week. A huge, huge week,” Hoskins said. “Like I said before, we have to do what we can to put pressure on the front office to make the tough decisions. At the end of the day, that’s all we can control.”
Odubel Herrera returned from the injured list but started in left field as Travis Jankowski played center while Andrew McCutchen had a night off. Herrera may have lost his starting job while on the injured list. ... Alec Bohm will rehab the next few days in triple A before being reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list. ... Bryce Harper had X-rays on his right foot after fouling a pitch off the top of it in Wednesday’s loss to the Yankees. The X-rays were clear and Harper started on Thursday. He said the pain was so severe that he thought he broke a bone. ... Wheeler will start Friday against Atlanta left-hander Max Fried.