Zach Eflin’s season could be in jeopardy following both a positive COVID-19 test and a recurrence of his right knee injury. Phillies manager Joe Girardi told reporters (including The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Matt Breen) that he doesn’t expect Eflin to be doing much throwing during the right-hander’s mandatory 10-day minimum quarantine period, giving Eflin even less time to get prepared for a return to the mound before the regular season is up.
Eflin hasn’t pitched since July 16 due to patellar tenditis in his right knee. He was activated from the 10-day IL on Thursday for an expected start, but he was scratched from that outing due to more knee problems. Eflin was then placed on the COVID-related injury list the next day in the wake of his positive test.
It remains to be seen if Eflin will miss only 10 days recovering from the coronavirus, though he has already been fully vaccinated. This 10-day break could essentially serve as a shutdown period that may have been required anyway, considering the sudden return of Eflin’s knee issue. Still, the first step of that knee rehab can’t really begin until Eflin is COVID-free, limiting his chances of returning.
The righty has enjoyed a solid season, posting a 4.17 ERA over 105 2/3 innings and 18 starts in the Philadelphia rotation. After a career-best 28.6% strikeout rate in 2020, Eflin’s K-rate returned to career norms with a below-average 22.4% mark this season. However, Eflin has been better at ever at limiting free passes — his 3.6% walk rate is the lowest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 100 innings pitched in 2021.
Eflin’s potential absence for the remainder of the season won’t help the Phils in their attempts to make a late run at a playoff spot. Philadelphia entered today’s action with an even 64-64 record, 5.5 games back of the Braves in the NL West and six games out of a wild card spot. Eflin had been a solid No. 3 pitcher behind Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola in the Phillies’ rotation, though trade deadline acquisition Kyle Gibson, Ranger Suarez, and Matt Moore now look to be rounding out the starting five for the remainder of the year if Eflin can’t make a comeback.
The Phillies were further hampered by the loss of Rhys Hoskins to season-ending abdomen surgery earlier this week, and the club plans to use J.T. Realmuto help fill the void at first base. Getting out from behind the plate could also help Realmuto manage an injury of his own, as the All-Star catcher told MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki and other reporters that he has been battling some soreness in his right shoulder.
Realmuto described the issue as “normal everyday wear and tear,” to the point that he even downplayed the position change as a way to keep him fresh. “Everybody on the field is feeling some sort of tired or some sort of pain right now,” Realmuto said. “Mine just happens to be in my shoulder. I feel it a little bit hitting. I feel it sometimes throwing, but I don’t think it’s actually affecting my play at all.”
Considering Realmuto has an .874 OPS over 87 plate appearances in August, he certainly doesn’t seem any worse for wear. For the season, Realmuto is hitting .263/.351/.447 with 14 homers over 422 PA. Realmuto is no stranger to first base, having played 40 games at the position over the last five seasons.
Archie Bradley is also dealing with right shoulder discomfort, Girardi said, though the problem isn’t considered serious. Bradley hasn’t pitched since Tuesday, when he allowed two runs in an inning of work against the Rays. Bradley has a 3.12 ERA over 40 1/3 innings out of the Phillies bullpen this season, with a 54.4% grounder rate helping paper over some unimpressive Statcast metrics.