ATLANTA — Pitching coach Bob McClure walked to the mound on Tuesday night in what appeared to be simply a tactic to stall the game and allow the relievers time to warm up. Zach Eflin was in trouble and seemed to be at the end of his line after allowing the first three batters to reach and a run to score in the seventh inning of a 5-2 win over the Braves at SunTrust Park.
McClure and the infielders huddled for a brief chat before leaving Eflin as a pair of relievers hurried to get ready in the bullpen. And then Eflin, just as he looked ready to exit, steadied himself. The righthander retired the next three batters with ease to end the inning and preserve his strong return to the majors.
Eflin allowed two runs on seven hits in seven innings after being brought up from triple A. He struck out three and walked one. Eflin relied on his fastball to induce weak contact and recorded nine groundouts. He pounded the bottom of the zone, mixing in his curveball, slider, and change-up. It was the way the Phillies told Eflin he needed to pitch when they dropped him to the minors in May after three humbling starts.
"I was excited about the way I finished," Eflin said. "Obviously, you want to go the whole game like you do every game. But to be able to hunker down and get the guys out that I needed to get out was really big for me. Especially after going down and working on everything I needed to work on in triple A and coming back up. I needed to prove to myself that I could fight through adversity and get through that inning."
Eflin made adjustments with his pitching mechanics during his two months at Lehigh Valley, altering where he positioned his feet on the pitching rubber when he started his delivery. He stood on the right side last season but moved to the left this year in hopes of being able to throw more sinkers to lefthanded batters. He threw on Tuesday with his feet on the center of the rubber. He has found comfort, Eflin said.
It was a promising start from a pitcher who has shown promise but has yet to be consistent. He threw two complete games last season and started this season with a 2.81 ERA in five starts before faltering. The Phillies will give Eflin every chance to succeed and he will likely start again on Sunday against the Mets. It will be another chance to prove himself.
Odubel Herrera homered in the fifth after he somehow connected on a pitch that was at his feet. Herrera pulled Julio Teheran's down-and-inside curveball 396 feet to right field. It was a blast. And it sure was unconventional. Herrera finished with three hits and two runs scored. He's batting .353 since July 1.
"That ball looked like it was at his ankles and he just golfed it out of there," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He stayed back, but if you stay back on the soft stuff you have a chance to put it in play and he did."
"I don't know how to play golf, but I liked it," Herrera said.
Herrera seems to haunt the Braves. He has hit safely in 15 straight games against Atlanta dating back to last September. It is the longest streak by a Phillies player against the Braves since Ryan Howard had a 19-game hitting streak that lasted from September 2007 to September 2008.
Nick Williams stroked an RBI double to center in the fourth. Five of his last eight hits have gone for extra bases. Williams then scored on a single by Eflin after the Braves elected to walk Cameron Rupp and face the pitcher with two outs.
The Braves played without shortstop Johan Camargo, who suffered a hyperextended right knee when he jogged onto the field to start the game. Camargo appeared to trip where the grass meets the dirt near first base. He was carried off the field and had an MRI exam scheduled for Tuesday night.
His replacement, Jace Peterson, came to the plate in the seventh after McClure left the mound. Eflin challenged Peterson with a fastball and he flew out to shallow center. The next two batters — Ozzie Albies and Danny Santana — went down without a fight, recording two outs on three pitches. Eflin's night was finished. But he ended it himself.
"He certainly pitched well tonight," Mackanin said. "You've got to give him a lot of credit for going through a struggle-filled year this year, but he certainly performed tonight."