Zach Eflin isn’t worried.
Never mind that the Phillies right-hander dealt with back spasms last week and has yet to appear in an intrasquad game, or that the season opens on July 24. Eflin said he remains optimistic that he won’t be sidelined for much longer.
"I don't think I've lost any ground, to be honest with you," he said. "I threw bullpens twice a week through the whole quarantine and stayed in shape and stayed ready. I've already thrown to hitters since I've been here in Philly. The arm's still conditioned and everything's feeling better, so I don't think it's a setback whatsoever."
Health-permitting, Eflin has a spot in the Phillies’ starting rotation alongside Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Jake Arrieta. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are vying for the fifth-starter job, but manager Joe Girardi said last week that he expects to keep more than five pitchers stretched out as starters early in the shortened season.
Eflin will throw a bullpen session Monday, according to Girardi, who noted that the Phillies won’t need him to make a start until the season’s fourth or fifth game.
Last season, Eflin was the Phillies’ most consistent starter for two months before struggling for a month, losing his spot in the rotation, and finishing strong. His turnaround came when he got back to throwing his sinking two-seam fastball rather than elevating four-seamers.
Eflin worked out during the quarantine at his alma mater, Hagerty High School, near Orlando and stretched his arm out to throw about 70 pitches.
“Haven’t really lost any arm strength,” he said. “I was able to face some hitters back home and face some hitters here. I feel like I’m on track and feel like I’m in a really good space.”
Last month, six Phillies players and five staff members came down with COVID-19 in an outbreak at the club's spring-training facility in Clearwater, Fla.
Among the infected: bench coach Rob Thomson.
"I was very surprised," said Thomson, 56, who wasn't cleared to arrive in training camp until Saturday. "In my estimation, we were doing everything we could to stay separated and distanced and bringing people in at different times. But you still have to get gas and go to the grocery store. I'm not really sure where we got it."
Thomson described his symptoms as "very mild." Other than a 101-degree fever that he said lasted for about three or four hours, he had "extreme body aches" for about 10 days.
“I didn’t put two and two together. I didn’t think that was COVID. I just thought I was getting old or something,” Thomson said. “When [the fever] broke, all my body aches went away. It was truly fascinating to me. I feel very fortunate. I can’t imagine what other people have gone through.”
Two other infected staff members - bullpen coach Jim Gott and catching coach Greg Brodzinski - haven’t cleared MLB’s COVID-19 protocols.