The playoffs begin in three weeks, still too much time for Phillies manager Joe Girardi to contemplate co-aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler starting the first two games of a best-of-three series in the first round.
“I’m not going to even let you ask the question,” Girardi said recently.
OK, then how about this question: Who would start a hypothetical Game 3?
It would have to be Zach Eflin or Jake Arrieta, assuming the Phillies even have the luxury of setting up their rotation for a first-round series. But both sinkerballers have been inconsistent through seven starts, and it’s not clear yet that either has an edge over the other.
Eflin was particularly vexing in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Boston Red Sox at Citizens Bank Park. He looked dominant at times, such as when he struck out Alex Verdugo and Rafael Devers to open the game, and vulnerable at others, including when he allowed solo home runs to Devers in the third inning and Verdugo and Devers in the fifth.
The issue, according to Eflin, was imprecise location. He wanted to come inside to Red Sox hitters but didn’t do so enough, catching too much of the plate with too many pitches.
“I’ve got to do a better job of, when I pitch in, I [need to] pitch in-in,” Eflin said, “not just on the black for the chance for it to leak over the plate.”
Eflin leaned on his sinker, as usual, but threw only four curveballs and five changeups, instead using his slider as his main secondary pitch, also part of his plan to attack the Red Sox with hard stuff. He wound up allowing eight hits, including the three homers, in five innings.
Overall, Eflin has a 4.58 ERA in seven starts. Arrieta has a 5.67 mark that nevertheless drops to 3.94 without an Aug. 30 start against the Atlanta Braves in which he allowed seven runs in 1 1/3 innings.
Bryce Harper hasn’t homered since the first inning on Aug. 22 in Atlanta, a span of 69 plate appearances.
Harper made a bid for a homer in his first at-bat of the second game but flew out to the warning track in front of the 409-foot sign in straightaway center field.
The longest homerless stretch of Harper’s career was 98 plate appearances in 2014 with Washington.
It appears likely the Phillies will get utilityman Scott Kingery (back spasms) back from the injured list later this week. Center fielder Roman Quinn (concussion) might not be far behind.
Kingery is scheduled to take batting practice Wednesday but is “still a few days away” from rejoining the team, according to Girardi. Kingery is eligible to be reinstated as soon as Thursday.
Quinn has seen a reduction in symptoms after crashing into the outfield wall and suffering a concussion last Saturday night. He’s not eligible to be activated until Sunday.
Meanwhile, lefty reliever Adam Morgan (shoulder fatigue) is scheduled for a bullpen session Wednesday. It’s not clear whether he will make another appearance at the alternate training site in Lehigh Valley or rejoin the Phillies.