CLEARWATER, Fla. — Zach Eflin’s legs were so thin last season that he said it was like pitching on stilts. His legs weakened after surgery to repair the patella tendon in both knees immobilized him for three months at the end of the 2016 season. It took awhile for him to build back that muscle, but the starting pitcher said he finally has his legs back.
“This is the best I’ve ever felt in my life,” Eflin said. “I feel like I’ve gotten to a point where I don’t have to worry about my knees when I go out and throw.”
Eflin gained 20 pounds of muscle since last season after pitching last year at just 198 pounds. The righthander will compete during camp for the final spot in the starting rotation unless the teams opts to sign a free-agent pitcher. He showed flashes of promise in his 22 major-league starts, and it is worth imagining what Eflin can do with full health.
He felt chronic knee pain for almost his entire life before having the surgery. The operation alleviated his pain, but the recovery took a toll on his leg strength. He came into last spring training behind the other starters and battled injuries throughout the year. Now he’s healthy, and that alone gives him a chance.
“I’m feeling confident and healthier than ever,” Eflin said. “It’s different. I’m not on stilts anymore.”
Nick Williams walked out the back of Spectrum Field on Tuesday to see whose vehicle his home run had hit. It turns out he hit his manager’s SUV. Williams’ homer during batting practice sailed over the leftfield fence and into the lot where players and staff park their cars.
“I would trade a Nick Williams home run for a dent in a rental car, any day of the week,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The car can go in the shop. Don’t need to see it for a long time. I’ll get another rental. I want as many Nick Williams homers as possible.”
The Phillies have yet to name a starter for Thursday’s exhibition against the University of Tampa. … Kapler was impressed with veteran Francisco Rodriguez, who threw a bullpen session on Tuesday morning. “Very professional. Very competitive,” Kapler said. “Dropped in a few fastballs on the outside corner that make you think about vintage Frankie Rodriguez. Look, he’s not [throwing] 97 anymore. But he’s also a much different pitcher. His mentality is, ‘I’m going to hit the corners. I’m going to execute right when I need to execute and make a big pitch.’ At this point, we all trust that he can do that.”