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Zach Eflin proves he’s ready, Phillies set starting rotation

Zach Eflin will pitch Sunday in the third game of the season. Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler will pitch the first two games with Matt Moore and Chase Anderson handling games four and five.

Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin throws during spring training in Clearwater, Fla. Saturday, February 27, 2021.
Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin throws during spring training in Clearwater, Fla. Saturday, February 27, 2021.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

Zach Eflin’s back injury kept him out of Grapefruit League action for more than two weeks, but it will not prevent him from starting the season as scheduled.

Eflin threw 65 pitches as he handled the first five innings of Monday’s spring-training finale, which was to assure manager Joe Girardi that Eflin can start Sunday in the third game of the regular season. It also allowed Girardi to set his rotation as Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler will start before Eflin with Matt Moore and Chase Anderson following him.

“I was really pleased with what he did,” Girardi said after Eflin struck out three and allowed one earned run on eight hits in a 13-7 loss to Toronto. “I would think that you could get to 85 or 90 pitches.”

Back issues have bothered Eflin in the last two seasons, but discomfort he felt this spring was in a different spot. Eflin’s back flared up on March 13 after he threw extra pitches in the bullpen following a Grapefruit League start. The Phillies, expecting Eflin to play an important role this season, were cautious with the pitcher.

They limited him for two weeks to playing long toss, throwing bullpen sessions, and pitching in simulated games before having him start Monday.

» READ MORE: Phillies choose Adam Haseley, Roman Quinn for last two roster spots, send Odúbel Herrera to Lehigh Valley

“It was just like a lower-back injury,” Eflin said. “I felt a little pop and it stiffened up on me. I’m not concerned with it at all. I did it out in the bullpen when I was throwing more pitches and I kind of landed funky and it was just a really awkward pitch. ... But I’m not concerned about it. I just went out there and threw five innings and didn’t feel a thing.”

The Phillies reinforced their rotation this winter by combining $7 million to sign Moore and Anderson instead of committing for a bigger-ticket starter. Moore and Anderson, both veterans, looked good this spring. Vince Velasquez will start the season in the bullpen, but is able to start if needed. The Phillies are thin on rotation depth, which is why keeping Eflin healthy is paramount.

“They looked awesome. Exactly what we need,” Eflin said of Moore and Anderson. “I think all of us pitch really well with each other and for each other. We’re picking each other’s brains and learning a lot. They’re going to be innings eaters like all of us. We want to go as deep as we can into games and pitch a competitive game every time we’re out. It’s been fun working with them and I look forward to doing it for a 162 game season.”

Bullpen’s bad day

Héctor Neris and José Alvarado didn’t end camp on a strong note, as the two key relievers struggled Monday in their final spring-training appearances.

» READ MORE: Blue Jays 13, Phillies 7: Bryce Harper ends spring training just like he started it

Neris allowed a two-run homer in the sixth and struggled with a lack of velocity, which Girardi attributed to the right-hander unable to find his footing on the wet mound after it rained. Alvarado, who has been electric this spring, was roughed up for the second time in three tries. He retired two of the six batters he faced, walked two, and allowed a home run. His velocity was strong, but his location was off and the Jays timed him.

“I feel pretty good about where he’s at,” Girardi said. “Obviously, that’s not how you want to end up in spring training, but he had a pretty good spring training. Today was not a good day. But he had a really dominant spring training if you eliminate today.”

Extra bases

C.J. Chatham was released to make room on the 40-man roster for utility player Matt Joyce and reliever Brandon Kintzler. The other roster spot was cleared last week when outfielder Simon Muzziotti was placed on the restricted list. ... Bryce Harper hit home runs on his first and last swings of spring training. ... The Phillies flew Monday to Philadelphia. Moore will pitch Wednesday in a simulated game with Anderson throwing on Thursday.