SAN DIEGO — The way the Phillies' top decision-makers see it, making the playoffs for the first time since 2011 would be priceless, even if it costs pitcher Zach Eflin almost $17,000.
In need of a roster spot for newly acquired first baseman Justin Bour, the Phillies optioned Eflin to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Saturday rather than sending down struggling rookie shortstop Scott Kingery or utility infielder J.P. Crawford.
It was a calculated move, if not slightly cold-hearted, considering Eflin's solid 3.57 ERA in 16 starts. With a doubleheader set for Thursday against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies can recall Eflin as their 26th player for one of those games. He would have to return to triple A to fulfill the minimum 10-day option, but would be eligible to be recalled for a start in Washington on Aug. 22, which means he wouldn't miss a turn in the Phillies' rotation.
"We've talked all year about the importance of value at the margins," general manager Matt Klentak said. "We're tied for first place. It's the middle of August. You never know when an extra bench spot or bullpen spot will be the difference in a game. One game might make all the difference. So, that's why we did it."
Here's the downside: Eflin has an entry-level contract that pays him a different salary when he's in the majors compared with the minors. Over 10 days in the majors, he makes around $17,000. With the demotion, he'll also lose 10 days of major-league service time.
Eflin was unavailable for comment, although manager Gabe Kapler said he was "professional" about the decision.
The Phillies could have justified optioning either Kingery, who entered Saturday night's game against the Padres hitless in 20 at-bats and has a .588 OPS this season, or Crawford, who got only 22 at-bats on a minor-league rehab assignment after missing seven weeks with a broken left hand.
But Kapler noted that Kingery and Crawford are both useful off the bench as pinch runners or defensive replacements for either shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera or third baseman Maikel Franco. On Monday night in Arizona, the Phillies ran out of bench players during a 14-inning loss to the Diamondbacks.
"Sometimes one guy takes it on the chin so that 25 guys as a group and as an organization and as a team can prosper," Kapler said. "Our responsibility to the Phillies organization is to get every possible marginal advantage, and this gives us a marginal advantage by having an additional [bench] player on the roster."
Ready in a pinch
Never mind that Bour was an everyday player for most of the last four seasons with the Miami Marlins. Upon joining the Phillies, he said he will be ready for what likely will be irregular at-bats as a lefthanded hitter off the bench.
"The best piece of advice I got was from [former Marlins catcher] Jeff Mathis. He taught me to watch the game, see what was going on, think ahead of the bench coach, always be ready, and never find yourself in a situation where you're being ambushed," Bour said. "All I want to do is come in and help the team win. If that's as a bench guy or playing here and there, whatever the team needs to win, I'm all in on that."
Bour picked up 18 games in the standings, going from the last-place Marlins to the Phillies, who began the day tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves.
"You play the game of baseball for these last couple months where you're making a playoff push and you're playing meaningful games," Bour said. "It's definitely a change of pace that I'm very much looking forward to."
Eleven days after being acquired in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, catcher Wilson Ramos (left hamstring strain) began a minor-league rehab assignment at high-A Clearwater. He caught five innings, as scheduled, and went 0-for-2. It's likely Ramos will be reinstated from the disabled list within the next two weeks. … Top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez threw a bullpen session, his first since being shut down two months ago with right elbow inflammation. … Utility infielder Pedro Florimon (broken foot) began a rehab assignment in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League and went 0-for-1 with a walk.
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