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.

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

Aaron Nola, Maikel Franco lead Phillies to road win over Mariners

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola is a quiet, low-key Southern gentleman. Outward displays of emotion are not his thing.

But Nola made an exception Tuesday night.

After Maikel Franco made the play of the game to get Nola out of a jam in the seventh inning, the pitcher approached the third baseman in the dugout and …

"I gave him a hug," Nola said with a smile.

Franco's glove — and his bat — helped make a winner out of Nola and the Phillies as they rallied to beat the Seattle Mariners, 8-2, at Safeco Field (see Instant Replay).

"The game is about making pitches when they count, getting key hits and making good plays like that to help your pitcher out," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We had a little bit of everything tonight. It was a lot of fun tonight."

Mackanin hasn't been able to say that a lot this season, particularly on the road where the Phillies have now won just 11 times in 42 games.

The Phillies came into this series in Seattle having lost three straight in Arizona and scoring just four runs in those losses. Then they were no-hit over the first four innings Tuesday night by Mariners lefty James Paxton.

The Mariners led, 2-0, thanks to a two-run homer by Jean Segura against Nola in the third. Franco led off the fifth with the Phillies' first hit, a double to right against Paxton, and that started a game-tying, two-run rally that featured two hits, a walk and two sacrifice flies.

The game turned for good in the seventh inning. Franco led off the frame with a solo home run — reliever Luis Garcia, one of Franco's best pals, caught the ball in his cap in the bullpen — to give the Phillies a 3-2 lead.

Nola survived a couple of jams early in the game then faced another big one in the bottom of the seventh inning. He gave up a pair of one-out singles before striking out Mike Zunino for the second out in the seventh. The strikeout, Nola's ninth of the game, came on his 112th pitch, the most of his career, and Mackanin quickly popped out of the dugout and walked briskly to the mound. Segura, who had taken Nola deep in the third inning, was due up. Was Mackanin going to take Nola out?

No.

"I just wanted to let him know that this was his game," Mackanin said. "He pitched so well up to that point, I wanted him to know it was his game, finish it for us."

Nola thought there was a chance Mackanin was coming to take him out.

"But once he asked how I felt, I knew I wasn't out," Nola said. "I told him I felt good and thought I could finish the inning."

Nola threw one more pitch. Segura hit it hard down the third-base line, but Franco laid out, made a diving stab and threw across the diamond for the third out. If Franco doesn't make the play, the game is tied and Nola doesn't get a win.

That's why Franco got a hug.

"Segura put a pretty decent swing on that curveball and Mikey made a heck of a play," Nola said. "He also hit a big home run. It was a good team win."

Franco might have the bubbliest personality in the clubhouse, but he hasn't had many opportunities to show it. There's been a lot of losing this season and his play has been inconsistent.

But Franco was able to enjoy this one.

"I don't know how I made that play," he said with a laugh. "That's the little things that win ballgames. Bottom of the seventh, two outs. It was a big play and I'm glad for me and I'm glad for Nola. He did a good job."

And how about that hug?

"Oh, yeah," Franco said with a smile. "He said, 'Nice play, that's a sick play.'"

With two important extra-base hits and a game-saving defensive play, Franco once again showed how special he could be if he could add consistency to his game.

"I keep waiting for it and it's good to see little by little," Mackanin said. "I'd like to see him do it more often. He's capable of it. We've seen him do it in the past."

The Phillies got some good relief work from Joaquin Benoit then blew the game open in the eighth and ninth innings against the Seattle bullpen. Aaron Altherr hit a two-run homer and Freddy Galvis drove in a pair of runs with a pair of singles.

Galvis voiced his frustration with all the losing on Monday and urged his teammates to show more effort (see story). He backed up his words with three hits.

Timely hitting, clutch defense, good relief work and, of course, a second straight strong start from Nola.

We haven't been able to say it often this season, but this was a good win.

"When that starter gives you seven innings, it makes it a little easier," Mackanin said. "Nola made pitches when he had to. He really kept us in the game."

And Franco did the rest.

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

Instant Replay: Phillies 8, Mariners 2

BOX SCORE

SEATTLE — Aaron Nola pitched well and Maikel Franco came up huge with his bat and his glove in leading the Phillies to an 8-2 win over the Seattle Mariners in an interleague game on Tuesday night.

Nola won his second straight start to improve to 5-5.

Franco gave Nola a 3-2 lead with a tiebreaking, leadoff homer in the top of the seventh then preserved the lead with a sensational diving play to end the bottom of the inning.

Freddy Galvis had three singles and drove in two important runs late in the game.

The win was just the Phillies' 11th in 42 games on the road this season. They are 25-51 overall.

Starting pitching report
Nola reached a career-high of 113 pitches over seven gutsy innings. He gave up five hits and two runs and got a bunch of big outs with men on base. He walked four and struck out nine.

Nola got out of jams with two men on base three times, including in the bottom of the seventh when he preserved a one-run lead by striking out Mike Zunino and getting Jean Segura on a groundball to third. Franco made a tremendous diving play on the ball to end the inning and prevent the tying run from scoring.

Nola has won two straight starts. He has pitched 14 1/3 innings over that span, allowed just three runs and racked up 17 strikeouts.

Lefty James Paxton did not give up a hit until the fifth inning. He allowed three runs in seven innings of work. He gave up Franco's go-ahead homer.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth inning to preserve a two-run lead.

The Seattle bullpen allowed five runs in two innings.

At the plate
Franco ignited a game-tying, two-run rally in the top of the fifth. He led off that inning with a double, the Phillies' first hit. Cameron Perkins followed with an infield hit and Cameron Rupp drew a walk. The Phillies then scored a pair of runs on consecutive sacrifice fly balls by Ty Kelly and Daniel Nava. Galvis followed with a single and third base coach Juan Samuel got a little too aggressive in sending Rupp from second base. Rupp was cut down at the plate.

Franco's go-ahead homer in the seventh was his 10th of the season. Galvis pushed home an insurance run in the eighth. He followed Nava's leadoff double with an RBI single. Galvis drove home another run with a hit in the top of the ninth and Aaron Altherr put it out of reach with a two-run homer, his 13th of the season.

Segura smacked a two-run homer in the third to give the Mariners a 2-0 lead.

In the field
Franco made a diving stab on Segura's smash down the third-base line to end the seventh inning and keep the Phils up by a run.

A night off
Odubel Herrera, he of several recent miscues and lapses in concentration, did not start Tuesday night. Manager Pete Mackanin said it was a night off, not a benching. Herrera said he has to start playing smarter baseball (see story).

Health check
Jerad Eickhoff, on the disabled list with an upper-back strain, will throw a bullpen session on Wednesday. That will help determine if he's ready to return in the coming days.

Up next
The two-game series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Rookie right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 3.60) pitches against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez (3-2, 4.68). Leiter pitched six scoreless innings in his first big-league start Friday in Arizona.