PITTSBURGH - The state of the Phillies' starting pitching continues to get more and more suspect with each passing day.
As if it isn't bad enough that Jake Arrieta has a painful bone spur in his right elbow and isn't sure he can make it through the season, or that Nick Pivetta has been demoted to the bullpen to make room for a guy (Drew Smyly) who had an 8.42 ERA before being released by Texas earlier this season, or that Vince Velasquez is allergic to the middle innings, now Zach Eflin has a heavy body.
That's a way of life for middle-aged sports writers, but it doesn't sound so good for a 6-foot-6, 25-year-old pitcher who, at least outwardly, appears to be in good physical condition.
"It's felt heavy for a little bit, but everybody feels heavy, you know," Eflin said after pitching poorly in a 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Saturday night. "It's something you go through during a season."
Are we talking fatigue? Are we talking something more serious, like a health issue?
"There's really no explanation for it," Eflin said. "You know sometimes you feel like you hit a brick wall, sometimes you wake up, you don't feel great. Right now it's one of those things where I'm kind of searching for what's best for me, what's going to work for me. It's nothing that prevents me from throwing a baseball or anything, it's just making adjustments to my routine or the way I prep, but in no way, shape or form does it affect me throwing the baseball."
Two starts previous in Atlanta, Eflin admitted that a 13-pitch showdown with Ronald Acuna Jr. took a physical toll on him. Had that at-bat come in the eighth inning, it would have been completely understandable. But the at-bat came in the first inning.
This is no joke.
Is there a health concern here?
"It has nothing to do with health," said Eflin, who has an ERA over 9.00 in his last five starts.
Eflin was not the reason the Phillies lost this game. Sure, he gave up three runs in the third inning, but lack of offense was the culprit in this one. The Phils were out-hit, 13-3. Their only run was unearned. They struck out 11 times and were 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position. Pittsburgh starter Joe Musgrove allowed just two hits and struck out eight in six innings.
"I don't think we swung the bats the way that we're capable of swinging the bats," manager Gabe Kapler said. "Musgrove did a pretty good job of keeping us off balance."
Kapler disclosed that Eflin's body felt heavy as he talked about the pitcher's performance after the game.
"Zach's body is feeling a little bit heavy right now and his stuff is just getting a little bit lighter than it was earlier in the season." Kapler said. "I think that's something we have to pay attention to and get his body to feel energetic and moving towards the plate with intensity all the way through his outing."
Including his work at Triple A, Eflin pitched a career-high 148 innings last season. He has pitched 110 innings in 19 starts, hardly an exhausting workload, this season.
"It could be a number of things," Kapler said. "It could be mechanics, sometimes. It could be some fatigue, sometimes. But that's something I want to dig into with Zach and our training staff and give him the best chance to have success by having that conversation."
It would not be surprising if that conversation included discussing the possibility of going on the injured list. Something seems to be going on with Eflin and you have to wonder if it would be wise, from a team in a playoff race to a personal-health standpoint, to send him back to the mound for his next turn.
Suddenly the state of the Phillies' starting pitching is even more tenuous than it was before.
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