Zach Eflin stepped on first base Wednesday night for the final out of the eighth inning and returned to the dugout, knowing his night was finished.
The pitcher was excellent. He tied a career-high in strikeouts and the right-field scoreboard flashed that his final pitch of the eighth was just the 82nd he had thrown all night.
But the Phillies offense provided him no help in a listless 2-0 loss to the Diamondbacks. Eflin was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning. His night – two runs on five hits in eight innings – was wasted. The Phillies had just three hits and the loss breezed by in 2 hours, 16 minutes.
The lineup, two days before embarking on a crucial three-game series in Atlanta, did not have a pulse. They had just two hits after six innings and both were by Nick Williams, who replaced Bryce Harper in right field as the star sat for the first time this season.
Williams entered Wednesday with one hit and 10 strikeouts in his last 13 at-bats. Yet he was the only Phillies batter who could figure out Arizona right-hander Merrill Kelly, a 30-year-old rookie with a low-90s fastball who spent the last four seasons pitching in South Korea.
Williams doubled to start the third inning but Kelly retired the next three batters with ease. That was about as close as the Phillies could get to him. Kelly struck out five batters, walked none, and stayed in the game until Harper batted for Eflin with two outs in the eighth.
Thursday night was the Phillies' final game of a 35-game stretch against non-division opponents. They will fly to Atlanta on Thursday night and play their next 26 games against teams from the National League East. The Phillies survived their non-division stretch with a 19-16 record. The next 26 – half of which are against Washington and Atlanta – will be more telling.
In a season plagued by pitching injuries and inconsistencies, Eflin has been a steady presence. He has allowed two runs or less in six of his last eight starts. His ERA after 13 starts is just 2.81. He's easily the team's best starter, and he pitched like it on Wednesday night.
He struck out nine batters, allowed just five hits, and walked one. His two runs scored in the third inning were on three-straight singles. None of them were hit particularly hard, but instead found places to land. For Eflin, it was a run of bad luck. And when the Phillies offense was so spiritless, it was enough to spoil an otherwise excellent night.