When your name is Zach Eflin and you don’t throw 95 mph for a living, there are a few things you must do consistently.
You must locate your fastball. You must get ahead in the count. You must keep the ball down. You must throw your breaking pitches for strikes without hanging them, and you must have something at your disposal to generate a ground ball or a strikeout when ahead in the count.
But most of all, you need to not walk people. In his last three starts, Eflin hasn’t been able to do any of those things.
Last night against the Dodgers the 22-year-old rookie was lit up again, giving up seven earned runs on seven hits with three walks and no strikeouts. He also gave up three home runs, two to super-rookie and potential NL MVP Corey Seager and one to old friend Chase Utley.
He did all this in just three innings of work, by the way. It was also his third straight poor outing after a string of quality starts from the young right-hander.
After his disastrous MLB debut against the Blue Jays, in which he gave up eight earned runs in 2 2/3 innings, Eflin posted an ERA of 2.08 in his next seven starts, including two complete games, one of them a shutout. He struck out 24 batters and walked just five in those seven games.
However, in the last three, Eflin has gotten rocked to the tune of a 13.85 ERA in 13 innings, with five strikeouts and 9 walks. After the game last night, Eflin talked about his poor outing, saying his issues could be any number of issues.
The one thing that is obvious after watching Corey Seager’s two blasts is Eflin missing up in the strike zone. Seager’s two bombs came on two pitches the tailed right down the middle of the plate, belt-high, in the mid-90s.
MLB hitters NEVER miss those. Utley’s blast was down in the zone but in Chase’s historical nitro-zone.
Obviously, Eflin is a pitcher who relies on location. After walking just five batters in seven starts, he’s walked nine in his last three. And batters have posted a 1.280 OPS against him in the last three starts, after a .576 OPS in the previous seven outings.
Manager Pete Mackanin talked about Eflin’s recent struggles as well.
Command, command, command.
Sometimes we can make baseball really complicated, with release points and heat maps and chart after chart after chart. But sometimes a pitcher like Eflin, who doesn’t have swing and miss stuff, gets hit around because he puts the ball right down the middle of the plate.
Sometimes, a pitcher just loses his command. Whether it’s a mechanical flaw or poor execution, it doesn’t really matter.
Eflin has to live down in the zone, and until he starts living down there consistently, he’s going to look a lot like Kyle Kendrick out there.