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-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies (8-9) vs. Braves (6-11)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies and Braves played quite the game Saturday night. 

The teams went back and forth in the final two innings, culminating in Maikel Franco's walk-off single. What do the they have in store for Sunday? Zach Eflin will take the hill for the Phillies opposite Mike Foltynewicz, a matchup of developing right-handers in their 20s.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game.

1. Eflin back to form
Promoted to the majors at the beginning of the week, Eflin looked back to form in his first MLB start of 2017.

Eflin had the unfortunate problem of needing to rehab two knee surgeries this offseason, but clearly has not lost much in terms of his stuff. He looked a lot like the Eflin who produced five quality starts in a stretch of six appearances last summer, not the one who gave up 20 runs in his last 13 innings.

While he threw just five innings against the Mets, he limited New York to just two runs while working around six baserunners. Both runs came in the first inning and he retired 13 of his last 15 batters faced. 

The 23-year-old righty lives off his low-90s fastball and sinker while mixing in a slider and curveball. He was sinker heavy in his first start of 2017 and it was effective at Citi Field.

One of his best starts last season came against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin needed just 92 pitches to throw a six-hit complete game with just one earned run allowed, a solo homer by Ender Inciarte. He didn't walk any Braves batters and struck out six in a quick game (2:08 in duration). Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and no batter got more than one hit.

2. Foltynewicz vs. the Phils
Foltynewicz hasn't had an ideal start to the season. His first start came in inclement weather vs. the Pirates, then he had to come out of the bullpen with a series of off days, which allowed the Braves to skip their fifth starter.

His most recent appearance came back in the rotation on Tuesday and he held his own against the Nationals, who were without a few key veterans but still had Max Scherzer on the hill. Foltynewicz held the Nats the just two runs over seven innings, scattering nine baserunners while striking out three batters. He walked four batters and has a paltry 8/7 K-BB ratio this year. 

In his three seasons with the Braves, the 25-year-old righty has a sub-optimal 4.85 ERA over 222 2/3 innings. However, his ERA got much better from 2015 to 16 (5.71 to 4.31) and his 4.26 ERA thus far in 2017 isn't half bad. 

Foltynewicz lives off his mid-90s fastball that has touched 97 this season. He mixes in a slider that draws a lot of groundballs, a sinker and a changeup. His velocity is down a little this season, which could explain his poor strikeout rate.

Folynewicz is 2-1 in four appearances against the Phillies in his career but has a 6.00 ERA, allowing five homers and 12 runs in 18 innings. Franco and Tommy Joseph each have one of those home runs while Odubel Herrera has three hits off the right-hander.

3. Ryan Howard: Braves minor leaguer
Believe it or not, Ryan Howard could be playing for another NL East team this year. The former Phillies slugger made his debut Saturday night for the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta's Triple A affiliate. 

Howard had himself quite a night, going 2 for 2 with two singles, an RBI, a hit-by-pitch and a walk, which was intentional. For someone signed so recently to a minor-league pact, it was an encouraging showing, although it's unlikely he'll be called up anytime soon.

There are two major obstacles to Howard making it back to the show with the Braves. The first is Freddie Freeman. With Freeman, the Braves already have a lefty slugger at first base for the foreseeable future. The other issue is Howard isn't on the Braves' 40-man roster. Atlanta has little incentive to add Howard to its 40-man because they're in full rebuild mode and need to prioritize their prospects.

Still, there may be something left in the tank for Howard. He still hit 20 home runs last season and was quite effective in the second half, particularly as a platoon bat. Even if the Braves ultimately don't need Howard, his opportunity in Gwinnett is a chance to audition for other teams as well. Veterans on minor-league deals often have opt-outs or could be granted their release if another team shows interest. 

If you're curious, Howard doesn't play Lehigh Valley, the Phillies' Triple A affiliate, until July 17-19 and doesn't play in Lehigh Valley until a week later.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis struck out twice on Saturday, but he also extended his hitting streak to six games with a double. It was just his second extra-base hit since April 7.

Braves: Freddie Freeman has raised his average to .400 on the season. His .400/.507/.850 batting line won't last, but he looks to have brought his game to another level this year.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are on a three-game winning streak, including two straight over the Braves. Despite finishing ahead of Atlanta in the standings in 2016, the Phillies lost their last seven games vs. the Braves last season.

• The Phils have won two extra-inning games in the last five days. They haven't done that since April 17 and 20 of last season.

• Aaron Altherr has a six-game hitting streak going and has raised his average to .379. He has doubled in consecutive games and has two hits in three straight games. For good measure, he's added stolen bases in two of Phillies' last three games.

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff

BOX SCORE

Brock Stassi's toe hurt.
 
Maikel Franco's ribs and head hurt.
 
Pain never felt so good.
 
The Phillies pulled off their most dramatic win of the young season when they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, at chilly Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco completed a three-RBI night when he smacked a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single to right to give the Phillies the walk-off win. It was the Phillies' third straight win and fifth in the last seven games as they improved to 8-9 with a chance to sweep a series and even their record at .500 on Sunday afternoon.
 
Franco will be in the lineup.
 
But he might need a couple of Advil to get going.
 
After his game-winning hit, Franco was hilariously chased into right field by his euphoric teammates. The Phillies third baseman absorbed a beat down with Andres Blanco delivering a blow to the top of Franco's head.
 
"You see that -- boom!" Blanco said in the happy clubhouse after that game.  
 
Franco did more than see it.

He felt it.
 
"Whitey got me," he said, laughing and pointing to his head and ribs. "My body is screaming right now."
 
Across the clubhouse, Stassi was feeling Franco's pain. His foot got stepped on during the happy scrum.
 
"My toe is killing me," he said with a laugh.
 
Stassi, too, might need an Advil before Sunday's game. He has a good chance to be in the lineup at first base because Tommy Joseph seems like a candidate for a day off after a tough night. Joseph made a costly throwing error in the top of the 10th inning that helped the Braves take a 3-2 lead.
 
Stassi helped rescue the Phillies from that deficit. His 10th inning single was the first of three one-out hits that the Phils collected against Braves' closer Jim Johnson. With the bases loaded, Johnson made Odubel Herrera look bad with a swinging strikeout for the second out. That brought up Franco. New hitting coach Matt Stairs is constantly encouraging Franco to use the whole field and that's just what the cleanup man did in lacing a liner to the warning track in right.

"To right field! How 'bout that," manager Pete Mackanin said.
 
It was Franco's second single of the night. He would have been awarded a game-winning double if he had reached second base. But, alas, he was chased into right field.
 
In the clubhouse after the game, Franco was told by a club official that he could have had a double had he touched second.
 
Franco's eyes widened in disbelief.
 
"Ah, Mikey!" he said, scolding himself.
 
Then he laughed.
 
Across the clubhouse, Joseph could laugh about the miscue that saw him throw to an empty third base after a sacrifice bunt in the 10th. With everything moving fast, he mistook shortstop Freddy Galvis for a baserunner as Galvis streaked to cover third.
 
Joseph's error put a man on third and the Braves scored the go-ahead run on an infield hit.
 
The ironic part about Joseph's error was the Phillies played excellent defense -- Herrera and Aaron Altherr made great catches in the outfield and Galvis was Galvis at short -- until the 10th.
 
They pitched well, too, from starter Jerad Eickhoff's five innings of one-run ball to the stingy relief work of Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia and Pat Neshek. They teamed on three shutout innings.
 
With his top late-game tandem of Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris in need of a night off, Mackanin asked Edubray Ramos to close it out. Ramos struck out the first two batters in the ninth and was one out away from his first big-league save when Brandon Phillips unloaded on a hanging slider to tie the game at 2-2.
 
Ramos rebounded and got the final out of the inning. As he walked off the field, he covered his mouth with his glove and shouted. Best guess: He said a naughty word. But ultimately his teammates got him off the hook. Parts of it were pretty. Parts of it were ugly. But when the night was over, the Phillies had a win.
 
"It was really a wacky game," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We played well overall, then there was a flurry of activity at the end."
 
Mackanin reached for a bottle of water.
 
"I'm going to drink more of this Smart Water," he said. "It's a happy day."