The Phillies are sending right-hander Zach Eflin from the rotation to the bullpen, Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Eflin will “most likely” back up current rotation members Jake Arrieta and Vince Velasquez, though the Phillies could also use him in games started by other pitchers, according to manager Gabe Kapler (Twitter links).
Eflin may not be the last Phillies starter dropped from their rotation, which could acquire more help by Wednesday’s trade deadline. He’s moving out to make room for Jason Vargas, whom the Phillies acquired from the Mets on Monday. Philadelphia also picked up Drew Smyly in free agency earlier this month after he pitched so poorly with the starter-needy Rangers that they released him. Smyly did, however, pitch a gem in a win over the Pirates in his Phillies debut on July 21. As of this writing, Smyly has gotten off to a terrific four-inning start versus the Giants on Tuesday.
This season has represented a step back for the 25-year-old Eflin, who was more impressive during his first truly extensive action as a starter in 2018. Eflin pitched to a 4.36 ERA/3.80 FIP with 8.65 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 41.2 percent groundball rate in 128 innings then. His ERA (4.63), walk rate (2.48 per nine) and GB percentage (41.2) look much the same this season, but some of his other numbers have markedly declined. His K/9 (7.35) has sunk by almost a batter per inning, which has aided in a sizable FIP increase (4.86) and a noticeable uptick in home runs. Eflin yielded HRs on 11.2 percent of fly balls last year, but he’s up to 14.9 in that category this season.
Eflin, it should be noted, has seemingly been victimized by some poor fortune. His .316 expected weighted on-base average against looks far superior to the .338 real wOBA hitters have recorded off him. He also owned a 3.34 ERA as recently as June 29, but a horrid four-start stretch in July helped lead to his ouster from the Phillies’ rotation, at least for now.
Aside from Aaron Nola, the Phillies’ starting staff has been a general disappointment this year. Arrieta, who’s dealing with elbow issues, has fallen flat in Year 2 of a big contract. Velasquez and Nick Pivetta have shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen because of underwhelming performances, and the now-injured Jerad Eickhoff also couldn’t hold a starting job before going on the injured list with right biceps tendinitis in mid-June. The Phillies have brought in Vargas and Smyly as a result, though it’s fair to be skeptical that either will be able to cure what ails the playoff contenders’ rotation.