Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zach Eflin's turn to try to quiet the Mets

Phillies-Mets 5 things: Zach Eflin's turn to try to quiet the Mets

Phillies (4-8) at Mets (7-6)
7:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After taking Monday off to recover from the frustrating walk-off loss to Bryce Harper and the Nationals Sunday afternoon, the Phillies are back at it tonight.

It's another series against the Mets -- when it's over, the Phillies will have played their last 12 games all against the Nationals and Mets.

Let's take a look at the opener:

1. Eflin's season debut
Zach Eflin was recalled from Triple A Lehigh Valley early Tuesday afternoon when the Phillies placed Clay Buchholz on the disabled list.

Buchholz had surgery Tuesday to repair a torn flexor tendon in his right forearm and is out 4 to 6 months, essentially ending his season (see story).

That means Eflin will have an opportunity to solidify a spot in the Phillies' rotation beyond tonight if he can piece together the type of efficient outings he had in seven of 11 starts last season.

Eflin, 23, underwent two knee surgeries late last season to relieve a chronic condition he's had since he was 10 years old. The condition ended his 2016 after 11 starts.

Eflin's numbers as a rookie looked worse than his actual performance -- 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA. He pitched two complete games with one shutout, and in seven starts from June 19 through July 22, he averaged nearly seven innings per start and posted a 2.08 ERA with a 0.86 WHIP. 

Four awful performances -- his MLB debut in Toronto and his final three starts before going on the shelf -- skewed the stats somewhat, though it was an also an indication of what can happen when Eflin isn't hitting spots perfectly. He doesn't miss many bats so he relies on soft contact and groundballs to get him through.

Eflin had just a 5.7 percent swinging strike rate as a rookie, well below the league average of 10.1 percent. To succeed at this level he's going to need to live low in the zone with his four-seam fastball and sinker. His groundball rate last season was 36.2 percent, a pretty average number for a sinkerballer.

Eflin was pretty much four-seam, two-seam, slider as a rookie, throwing one of those three pitches 89 percent of the time. He occasionally mixed in a curveball and a changeup to lefties. His fastball and sinker are in the 92 to 94 mph range.

Eflin faced the Mets once last year and had a quality start in a 5-0 Phillies loss, allowing three runs over six innings. Curtis Granderson took him deep, and the Phils had just one hit that afternoon against a lights-out Jacob deGrom.

2. Another look at Wheeler
The Phillies face Mets right-hander Zack Wheeler for the second time in six nights. They lost to him last Wednesday, putting up five zeroes before chasing him in the sixth inning.

Wheeler, who was making just his second start since 2014 after missing two years with Tommy John surgery and a few setbacks, loaded the bases with two outs in the sixth and was lifted after 85 pitches. Hansel Robles came in and gave up a grand slam to Maikel Franco, uglying Wheeler's line.

In truth, the Phillies' offense looked meager against Wheeler for most of the night. He was throwing heat, averaging 95 mph with his fastball and sinker and maxing out at 97.4 mph. And every offspeed pitch put in play against him -- three changeups, three sliders and three curveballs -- was an out.

The Phillies have seen little of Wheeler and Cesar Hernandez is the only player with multiple hits against him. Hernandez is 3 for 5, and he saw 14 pitches in three at-bats against Wheeler last week so he definitely knows what he's up against.

3. Nothin' but the East
We've gone over the Phillies' tough start to the season but the Mets' April schedule is even stranger. The Mets' first 32 games of 2017 are all against division opponents. They don't play a team outside the NL East until May 8 when they host the Giants.

When this stretch comes to an end, the Mets will have played 10 games against the Braves, 10 against the Marlins and six against the Phillies and Nationals.

That means just 44 of the Mets' final 130 games -- almost exactly one-third -- will be against division opponents.

The Mets were 40-36 against the NL East last season and that was basically the difference between them and the Nationals, who went 51-25 against the East and won the division by eight games.

4. Since we saw them last ...
The Mets dropped three in a row at Marlins Park this week, their boom-bust offense hitting a low point Sunday when they didn't have a hit through seven innings. They finished 5 for 32 with five singles against five Marlins pitchers.

Jay Bruce has cooled off since the Phillies series, and Granderson and Jose Reyes still aren't hitting. Granderson is at .174 and is still without a homer, while Reyes is 4 for 46 (.087) with one extra-base hit and 13 strikeouts.

5. This and that
• Mets closer Jeurys Familia is eligible to return on Thursday from a 15-game suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy.

Familia makes the Mets' bullpen a whole lot better. He had a 2.20 ERA with 94 saves and 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings the last two seasons.

Without him, the Phillies will have their chances in the ninth inning against the eminently hittable Addison Reed, king of the straight 92 mph fastball.

• Franco has a .158 batting average on balls in play. It's very early in the season and it will normalize closer to his .271 career mark, but it explains some of his poor performance. Some, not all -- Franco's April has been a mix of bad luck and a bad approach at times. He's yet to find the kind of multi-week consistency that would make him a true difference-maker in the middle of an order.

• Cesar Hernandez since 2016: .299 batting average, .373 on-base percentage in 678 plate appearances. Only four other players in the National League have that high a batting average and OBP since last opening day: Joey Votto, D.J. LeMahieu, Freddie Freeman and Daniel Murphy.

• The Mets have won 42 of the 60 meetings between these teams since 2014 and the dominance isn't limited to one venue. The Phillies are 9-19 during that span at Citi Field and 9-23 against them at Citizens Bank Park.

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jake Thompson aims to follow Mark Leiter Jr.'s lead

Phillies-Marlins 5 things: Jake Thompson aims to follow Mark Leiter Jr.'s lead

Phillies (46-79) vs. Marlins (62-63)
1:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies got back in the win column on Wednesday night after a pair of losses during Tuesday's doubleheader. The Phils aim for their second straight four-game split with Jake Thompson getting called up for the start. Former Phillies right-hander Vance Worley will take the hill for the Marlins.

Here are five things to know for the series finale on Thursday afternoon:

1. Calling on Thompson
Thompson returns to the rotation for the first time in three weeks after a lackluster outing in Anaheim on Aug. 2.

Thompson has made only five appearances this season, including two starts. Before allowing seven runs (two earned) on nine hits in five innings against the Angels, he threw five shutout innings in a spot start against the Braves at home. 

In 15 innings this year, he's allowed 12 runs on 20 hits (and seven walks). He's struck out 10 batters and allowed four home runs, three of which came against the Angels. 

The 23-year-old righty has made three starts in Triple A Lehigh Valley in the last few weeks. He had one quality start against Charlotte, the White Sox's Triple A team, but in 17 1/3 innings he has given up 21 hits and 10 runs. He's even walked 10 compared to just 14 strikeouts. 

He has a 4.20 ERA this season, but his peripherals suggest he's been much worse than that, particularly with his high walk and low strikeout rates. He has yet to face the Marlins in his career before Thursday.

2. Unleash the Vanimal
Worley, who spent his first few seasons in Philadelphia, returns to Citizens Bank Park for just the third time as an opposing player.

He's spent the entire season in the Marlins' system and has faced the Phillies twice in relief earlier this season, both times at Marlins Park. In four innings, he's allowed three runs, all of which came in one outing.

The "Vanimal" is back in the Marlins' rotation after spending over a month in relief. The 29-year-old righty has a 3.08 ERA in his last five starts and the team is 4-1 in his starts. His peripherals aren't ideal with just an 11-9 K-BB rate while allowing 23 hits in 26 1/3 innings. However, he's allowed only one home run, though all five starts came in pitcher's parks.

He has a 4.82 ERA in 56 innings this season and his strikeout rate is near his career low. Worley has been able to cut down on both his walks and home runs. He is not close to his 2011 rookie campaign with the Phils, but he's still been a serviceable pitcher in the Marlins' rotation.

Worley's fastball sits around 90 mph and he throws it 90 percent of the time. He throws three different fastballs — a sinker, cutter and four-seamer — while mixing in an occasional curveball.

In 13 career innings against the Phillies, he has a 4.85 ERA. Freddy Galvis is 4 for 6 with a BB against him. Tommy Joseph is 2 for 2 while Maikel Franco is 1 for 2 with a double.

3. Dog days of the rotation
While the Phillies are 33 games under .500, there is plenty to watch down the stretch, particularly in the team's rotation. 

After Vince Velasquez and Zach Eflin were placed on the 60-day and 10-day disabled list, respectively, there are now a few rotation spots up for grabs surrounding Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff, now the longest-tenured members of the rotation. Even Eickhoff is getting an extra day between starts after his velocity drop last time around, so there is plenty of flux surrounding this staff.

It's hard not to be reminded of last season, when nearly every member of the rotation saw their season end early of Eickhoff and Jeremy Hellickson. That led to plenty of young starters, including Thompson, getting the chance to show off their stuff in the last month or two of the season. 

That is the benefit and curse of the Hellickson trade. The team no longer has a veteran innings eater, so the last 40 days of the season is a chance for pitchers like Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Thompson to sink or swim. Mark Leiter Jr. kept his hat firmly in the ring with seven shutout innings of one-hit ball on Wednesday (see story).

An interesting wild card in all of this is Henderson Alvarez, who the Phillies signed to a minor-league deal. The former All-Star underwent shoulder surgery for the second consecutive year in 2016 and couldn't find a deal in affiliated ball this season. He was solid for the Long Island Ducks in seven starts and one report had him hitting 98 mph with his fastball. 

You can laugh at independent ball like the Atlantic League all you want, but Rich Hill has made a pretty impressive comeback also starting with the Ducks and there are other success stories to point to.

While Rhys Hoskins and the other hitting prospects will likely grab the headlines for the Phils in the last month or so, how the rotation shakes out will also have a strong affect on next season and even the offseason. If pitchers like Thompson and Leiter don't impress down the stretch, the team may feel compelled to sign more veteran starters to take the innings next year.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Hoskins drilled another homer on Wednesday, his seventh of the year, and is now batting .271/.407/.729 through 14 career games. That's Aaron Judge/Cody Bellinger-esque right now.

Marlins: Another guy hitting like Judge and Bellinger is the man to whom Judge is most often compared: Giancarlo Stanton. He went 0 for 4 on Wendesday but he's up to 46 home runs this year, including 13 in August alone.

5. This and that
• Hill threw nine no-hit innings on Wednesday for the Dodgers before allowing a walk-off home run in the 10th inning. The last pitcher to throw 10 innings in a game? Cliff Lee on April 18, 2012, with the Phillies. 

Before Lee, the last two to do it were both former Phillies, although they each did it before they came to Philadelphia. Both Roy Halladay and Aaron Harang accomplished the feat in 2007.

• The Phillies are 5-6 against the Marlins this season, but they're 3-2 against the Fish at CBP. The Phils went 10-9 last season against Miami, the only team they had a winning record against in division. 

• After facing the Cubs for three games this weekend, the Phillies play 17 straight games in the division. Believe it or not, the team is actually 25-24 against NL East opponents this year, buoyed by an 11-2 mark against the Braves.

Phillies rookies Mark Leiter Jr., Rhys Hoskins star in shutout

Phillies rookies Mark Leiter Jr., Rhys Hoskins star in shutout

BOX SCORE

There were two great storylines in the Phillies' 8-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

One of them was Rhys Hoskins. The hard-hitting rookie drove in five runs with a three-run homer and a two-run double. The homer, 445 feet into the second deck in left, was his seventh, all in the last 10 games. This game is obsessed with power and if the 24-year-old from Sacramento keeps this up, this town will soon be obsessed with him.

But as compelling as Hoskins' performance was in this game, it might have ranked second best on the night, especially when you look at it this way: Hoskins has been a top Phillies prospect for a couple of years now. He hit 38 homers in Double A last year and 29 more in Triple A before coming up earlier this month. He averaged 99 RBIs over his first three full minor-league seasons. People were eagerly awaiting his arrival and his early results in the major leagues aren't a complete surprise.

That brings us to the other great storyline in Wednesday's win. The top storyline.

Mark Leiter Jr. does not have Hoskins' minor-league credentials. He never made one of those top-10 prospects lists or was considered for the Futures Game. Heck, he didn't even get an invite to big-league spring training camp this year. He was a 22nd-round draft pick out of that baseball powerhouse known as the New Jersey Institute of Technology. He was an underdog, just a kid looking for a chance, from the moment he signed.

But in addition to being an underdog, he's a grinder, a determined bulldog who exudes Jersey toughness, pitching savvy and a full menu of pitches that he knows how to execute.

"Every day you come in and try to prove yourself," Leiter said. "You've got to believe in yourself, and when you get opportunities, you have to try to do your best."

Leiter was the story of Wednesday night's win because of what happened on Tuesday. The Phillies were swept by the Marlins in a doubleheader. Phillies pitching gave up 27 hits and 19 runs in the doubleheader, and the bullpen had to pick up 7 2/3 innings in the nightcap.

So Leiter had to be really good against a lineup that featured three big bats in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. And he had to stick around a while to help a beat-up bullpen.

He succeeded on all fronts, pitching seven innings of shutout ball and giving up just one hit.

"I don’t know who my favorite player is, either Leiter or Hoskins right now," a pleased manager Pete Mackanin said after the win. "I’m trying to make a decision on that. Right now they’re about tied.

"Mark saved the bullpen. It was a sorely needed outing."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998.

After Wednesday's game, the younger Leiter checked his phone.

"Great job," was the text message from his dad.

Leiter opened the game with five no-hit innings. He struck out five in the first two innings. He got big run support thanks to a five-run third inning when the Phils hit for the cycle and Hoskins clubbed a three-run homer after actually asking Mackanin if he should simply try to move the runners. Mackanin laughed and told Hoskins, "We're paying you to drive in runs." Hoskins obliged.

"Rhys is a great hitter having a great year," Leiter said. "It's fun to see him come up and having that success and contribute to us scoring a lot of runs."

Leiter watched from the dugout as the Marlins lit up Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta on Tuesday. That did not create any anxiety in the 26-year-old right-hander. The guy doesn't get rattled.

"I just tried to command the strike zone and get ahead early," he said. "They have a great lineup over there. The key is getting ahead and keeping guys off balance as much as you can. It's the big leagues, so you have to be good every time. Every lineup can hurt you. You have to execute.

"The most important thing was going deep into the game and giving the guys in the bullpen a blow. You can't go out there and chase strikeouts. You have to try to say within yourself and get outs."

Leiter retired Stanton — owner of a majors-best 46 homers — three times.

"He's locked in," Leiter said. "You know he's in the lineup. You have to try to make sure no one is on base when he comes up and then keep him off balance. He's having a special season, and as a fan of baseball, it's fun to watch. I don't want to see me on too many of those highlights, but he's having a great year. He's got a chance at 60 or 61 homers. It hasn’t been done in a long time."

Leiter's role remains undefined. Basically, he is a swingman, someone who can pitch as a long reliever or make spot starts, like this one. Those guys are valuable to clubs.

Either way, Leiter has put himself on the map this season. Not bad for a guy who was so far off the radar that he didn't even get an invite to big-league camp in the spring.

"He's made a great impression," Mackanin said.