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Why Zach Eflin feels so much more comfortable with Rays this year

Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in Baseball

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Zach Eflin has ample reason to feel more comfortable with the Rays this spring.

Last year he was the new guy, leaving the Phillies — and their veteran-led clubhouse — after seven seasons. Signing the largest free-agent contract in Rays history — $40 million over three years — created expectations, and some questions. There were logistical issues with spring camp being split between Disney and St. Petersburg. And he had some understandable distractions as wife Lauren was headed to a late-March delivery of their twin girls, who needed time in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“It was a different spring training for me last year,” Eflin said.

Flash forward to Thursday.

Eflin made his spring debut, and first tuneup for a likely opening day start, as one of the main team leaders. He was praised for the stellar work he did on the mound, posting an American League co-leading 16 wins in a career-high 31 starts, and off, serving as a mentor to young and less experienced players and a force unifier for all.

“Really appreciative of everything he did on the field, and just as much everything he did in the clubhouse,” manager Kevin Cash said. “There were a lot of things that he did, team building-wise, to kind of bring the group together.”

 

Closer Pete Fairbanks had a similar take.

“He threw a ton of innings and he was a very stable presence,” Fairbanks said. “He did a lot for our clubhouse, a lot for our onfield performance. I thought he was fantastic.”

Eflin, who turns 30 in April, said he didn’t plan to take that leadership role, but sensed a void in the Tampa Bay clubhouse, which lost Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Zunino among other veterans, and eased into it.

“It was quite unexpected, to be honest,” Eflin said. “But that’s kind of what you get on a team that didn’t really have any contract guys. I think they were kind of looking for veteran leadership ... there just really necessarily wasn’t someone like that here.

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