Zach Eflin throws his fastball more than 60 percent of the time. Last season, he threw his curveball just 4 percent of the time. In his season debut against the New York Mets on Tuesday, Eflin snapped off 15 curveballs, easily his second-most-used pitch.
Instead of dishing them out, Eflin has dealt with his own curveballs in his short stint as a major leaguer.
The 23-year-old made his debut last season on June 14 in Toronto. It had to be a dream come true for the young pitcher, but it quickly turned into a nightmare. The Blue Jays were relentless on Eflin, chasing him after 2.2 innings and scoring nine runs on the youngster. Eflin’s nightmare was finally over after former American League MVP Josh Donaldson launched a grand slam to left field.
Let’s face it: he had one of the worst major league debuts of all time. That would’ve put a lot of us in hiding for the foreseeable future.
But Eflin? I distinctly remember him walking off the mound with his head held high. He sat in the dugout straight up. Not hunched over with his hands in his head. At the time, I thought to myself, “Man, he really doesn’t seem fazed by this.”
And he wasn’t.
Eflin came out five days later and threw 5.2 innings against the D-Backs and allowed just four hits and two earned runs. His next start in San Francisco? Six innings, five hits and none earned. His next seven starts after his debut, Eflin went 3-2 with a 2.08 ERA. He twirled two complete games, including a shutout.
He was back. Until he wasn’t.
Eflin’s final three starts were disastrous. He allowed 20 earned runs in 13 innings. He was shut down for the year for operations on both of his knees, for pain he dealt with since he was a kid.
So great, another hurdle in Eflin’s way.
The right hander wasn’t ready for spring training, as he was still rehabbing his way back. But he just about made it for the season. He had one rehab start for Clearwater and then was thrusted back into a stacked IronPigs starting rotation. In his two starts, he tossed 10 scoreless innings.
When Clay Buchholz was officially shelved for the next four to six months, it was Eflin who got the call. He was tasked with facing a Mets lineup that pounded 30 hits in last week’s three-game sweep.
It wasn’t looking good early. Three of the first four batters reached base, which included a wild pitch. In all, Eflin gave up two runs on one hit and three walks in 31 pitches.
But Eflin did what he does best. He collected himself, settled down, and allowed just two more base runners the next four innings.
There have been so many times when Eflin could’ve pitched a tent and gave in. But every time he has faced an obstacle, he barrels through it even stronger. Whenever the 6-foot, 6-inch right hander is on the mound, he’s cool, calm and at ease. That’s how I feel when I watch Eflin go to work.
Zach Eflin has the makeup to be a successful starter in this league. Our opinions of him are certainly a far cry from from what they were on that infamous June afternoon. But Eflin didn’t seem too concerned. He just went out and pitched. That’s the kind of guy I want on my team.