'I think there's better baseball to play,' says Gabe Kapler after Phillies improve to 16-12

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Jim Salisbury
The Phillies are in first place at 16-12 following Zach Eflin's complete game during Sunday's 5-1 win over the Marlins. However, "There's better baseball to play," Gabe Kapler said. By Jim Salisbury
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'I think there's better baseball to play,' says Gabe Kapler after Phillies improve to 16-12 originally appeared on nbcsportsphiladelphia.com

Zach Eflin displayed a tremendous economy of pitches while dominating the Miami Marlins in a 5-1 Phillies' win Sunday afternoon.

He showed an equally impressive economy of words after the game.

The right-hander was asked what he learned from his previous outing against the Marlins, a 10-3 loss in Miami two weeks ago.

"Don't throw the ball down the middle every single time," he said with a chuckle.

Eflin was tagged for 10 hits and six runs in that learning experience game in Miami. He adjusted off that this time, mixed in more sinking fastballs "just to get a little movement," and the strategy worked brilliantly. He delivered the Phillies' best start of the season and first complete game since September 2017. He scattered seven hits and did not walk a batter while striking out three (see observations).

The performance allowed the Phillies to take three of four from the Marlins and it gave the bullpen a nice, big, two-day rest before opening a series against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday night.

"It's huge," manager Gabe Kapler said of the bullpen's chill day. "It really is. It was a huge win for the series, but really a huge long-term win for the Phillies."

The Phils have completed a stretch of 17 games in 17 days and they are in first place in the NL East at 16-12. It's the same record they had through the same number of games last season.

"It feels like two different teams," Kapler said. "In all fairness, last year's club at that point, we were a tad over our skis relative to this club, where it feels like this is more representative of the club that we are - and I think we can be even better than we have been in April, frankly. This was a tough stretch of games without an off day and we emerged from it intact and that was important. We haven't been at full strength (because of injuries) and our lineup hasn't clicked the way we all know it can. We got through April, or almost through April, and we've done a good job, but I think there's better baseball to play."

The Phillies have hit just .228 and averaged 3.8 runs over the last dozen games. They had just four hits on Sunday, but made them count. Two were extra-base hits that drove in runs after walks. Two other runs scored when Marlins pitchers threw wild pitches.

With the way Eflin pitched, the Phillies didn't need a lot of offense. He needed just 107 pitches to complete the third complete game of his career.

"He had really good intent with his pitches," catcher Andrew Knapp said. "He attacked from the very first pitch. Obviously, he's got some life - it's 94, 95 (mph), but he put it in the right spots."

Complete games are endangered species these days. Knapp enjoyed his role in Eflin's.

"It's pretty special, especially with the way pitch counts are going and guys are working counts and whatnot," he said. "This is my first one in the big leagues and I wouldn't want to do it with any other guy. I've been catching Zach since Double A so we've got a pretty good rapport. It was fun today."

Eflin was at 99 pitches through eight innings, but Kapler never thought of going to the hook.

"He was efficient and never really had any stressful innings," Kapler said. "There wasn't a whole lot of hard contact throughout the game. He was executing his fastballs away. He was executing his sliders on the plate, off the plate. He was elevating well. So there was really never a moment of feeling like we didn't want to keep pushing him through that game."

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