Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Phils' Eflin rocked in debut as Phils fall to Jays

TORONTO — It was 10:09 a.m. Tuesday when Zach Eflin, dressed in a black T-shirt and red shorts, stepped into the first-base dugout at Rogers Centre. The 22-year-old righthander was more than two hours from making one of the worst debuts in 134 years of Phillies baseball. But, in this moment, Eflin savored the possibilities. He stared at an empty big-league field.

"The sooner you can believe that you're a major-league pitcher, the better off you're going to be," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had told Eflin one day before an 11-3 loss to the Blue Jays. "Convince yourself you belong here from first pitch on."

Eflin threw his first pitch, a 93-mph fastball, at 12:43 p.m. He recorded his first strikeout two minutes later. At 1:41, Mackanin came to snatch the ball from Eflin, charged with nine runs (eight earned) in less than three innings.

The tall righty threw fat fastballs to the powerful Toronto lineup. He hung his slider. He walked three batters, allowed three homers, and could not complete three innings.

Eflin was the first pitcher to allow eight or more earned runs in his debut since Russ Miller in 1927. Afterward, he maintained perspective.

"It still was a dream come true," Eflin said. "I was out there in front of 50,000 people playing the game that I love."

The Phillies will learn about their young prospect in the coming days. Eflin, who replaced the injured Vince Velasquez in the rotation, will start again on Sunday against Arizona at Citizens Bank Park. He has the rest of the week to make the needed adjustments.

There is talent to mold. Eflin flashed a low-90s fastball that touched 96. His slider, the few times it was down in the zone, possessed good movement. He struck out two of the first three batters he faced — Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion — both on sliders.

"I was pretty excited after the first couple of hitters," Mackanin said.

"He made some good pitches," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "Then, woof. It escalated quickly."

Toronto scored once in the first, twice in the second and six more times in the third inning. Josh Donaldson provided the exclamation point, a third-inning grand slam.

Mackanin reviewed the internal report from triple A that said Eflin had located his pitches on both sides of the plate. The manager said he knows Eflin is better than he showed.

"I suppose he was a little nervous," Mackanin said. "He just made a lot of bad pitches."

Too often, Eflin missed his spot. Rupp wanted a 2-1 fastball down and in to Kevin Pillar in the second inning. Eflin left it up, and Pillar swatted a solo homer. He hung an 81-mph slider to Donaldson, who doubled home another second-inning run. Phillie-for-a-month Ezequiel Carrera ambushed an elevated 91-mph fastball for his second homer of the season.

Eflin's ERA is 27.00, and the Phillies must hope that an hourlong beating at least taught him what it takes to succeed in the majors. The pitcher's family watched from the first row behind the Phillies dugout, and Eflin met them for a few minutes after the blowout ended. Regardless of the result, it was a special moment for the Eflins.

That, Eflin said, helped him compartmentalize failure.

"You have to forget about it," Eflin said. "I mean, I'll remember it for the rest of my life. But from a pitching standpoint, I have to bounce back."

As Eflin and Rupp packed for a trip back to Philadelphia, the catcher lightened the mood.

"Ef," Rupp said, "were you nervous?"

"A little bit," Eflin said.

Rupp nodded.

"Of course," he said. "You dream about making this day happen your whole life. It kind of sucks when it goes the way it did. But it's his first one. You can't look at it in any other way than that."