Facing Cubs, Phillies RHP Eflin looks for first win

CHICAGO — The pain is gone, the knees seem sound and Philadelphia Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin looks for a payoff when he faces the Chicago Cubs on Thursday.

But there’s still some careful monitoring, as part of any appearance by the 23-year-old pitcher and his surgically repaired knees.

“It’s full speed ahead, but we’re being careful with him and he’s getting treatment on his knees,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Wednesday. “He’s still doing some exercises for the muscles in his legs to keep them strong, but he’s 100 percent.”

Eflin has yet to record a decision in four starts this season, as he heads into Thursday’s finale of the four-game set at Wrigley Field. However, he owns a solid 1.89 ERA in 19 innings, including seven-inning outings in each of his last two starts.

He also has struck out 11 and walked just three this season.

Eflin seeks his first victory since July 22, 2016, during an 11-game midseason stint with the Phillies during which he went 3-5 with a 5.54 ERA.

That came to an end in August, when he had season-ending knee surgery.

“I’m excited to take the mound healthy,” Eflin told reporters recently. “It was absolutely a good thing that we took care of it at that point. Do it while I’m young and make sure it’s a 2016 injury and not a career injury.”

Elfin goes against Cubs veteran John Lackey (2-3, 5.10 ERA), who makes his sixth start of 2017.

In his last start, on April 29, the Cubs beat Boston 7-4 at Fenway Park to give Lackey the win and snap a personal three-start losing streak. He allowed four runs on eight hits over six innings.

Facing Philadelphia for the 10th time, Lackey owns a 2.55 ERA with eight quality starts.

While his performances so far this season have varied, Lackey has worked six innings each time out.

He also has given up the long ball more than accustomed. Lackey has allowed seven home runs, including two in last week’s win at Boston. That would project out to 42 for the season if he makes as many starts (29) as in 2016, when he surrendered 23 homers.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said he’s not concerned that other starters haven’t always gone as deep.

“Actually, to keep our head above water when it’s not happening, I kind of like it because I know (longer outings are) going to happen,” Maddon said. “Our guys are good. They’re well. They’re going to continue to pitch better.

“They’re going to pitch very similar to what you’ve seen the last couple of years. I really 100 percent believe that.”

The Cubs remain home for three more games in the current homestand, entertaining the New York Yankees in an interleague series that opens with a Friday matinee followed by two nationally televised weekend night games.