Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Aaron Nola picks up where he left off

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Aaron Nola picks up where he left off

Phillies (29-59) at Brewers (51-41)
7:10 p.m. on NBC 10; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies fell to 30 games under .500 in their first game after the All-Star break after the Brewers broke out for an eight-run second inning in a 9-6 Phils loss. To make matters worse, Aaron Altherr went down with a mild right hamstring strain.

Looking to get back in the win column, the Phils send out Aaron Nola against Jimmy Nelson in Milwaukee.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening:

1. A right-field sized hole
If you were going to point to one lasting bright spot in the Phillies' dreadful first half, it would likely have been Altherr's emergence as an everyday outfielder (or Nola's rebound, see below). That makes Friday's injury that much more painful.

A hamstring strain, even a mild one, usually costs a player at least a few weeks, meaning Altherr will almost certainly head to the disabled list. Sure, wins and losses are pretty meaningless for the Phillies at this point, but the loss of Altherr will still affect the Phils. 

His injury assures Nick Williams of even more playing time. The club was already giving him starts to evaluate him, but this ensures his everyday role. Daniel Nava and Cameron Perkins, the latter who filled in for Altherr on Friday night, likely will be the ones to really absorb Altherr's at-bats. Both have led off at times this season and could move into the No. 1 hole (Altherr has batted first in the last two games). 

Considering it's a mild strain, this shouldn't be a season-ending injury for Altherr. For a player that began the season as a fourth outfielder, it's a credit to him that the team will truly miss him during his absence. He has more doubles, homers and hits so far than he had total before 2017 while putting up career best triple slash marks. 

2. Now to Nola
The Phillies' Saturday starter was the only other piece in the ongoing rebuild that may have taken the next step at the major league level. He struggled through some of his early starts and went on the disabled list but has looked back in form over his last few starts.

Looking at his numbers since he came off the DL in late May, he has a 3.36 ERA in 10 starts with 66 strikeouts over 64 1/3 innings. Zooming in further, he's had the best four-game stretch of his career going into the All-Star break. 

In four consecutive starts, he threw at least seven innings, gave up two runs or fewer, allowed five hits or fewer and struck out eight or nine batters in each game. He's brought his season ERA down to 3.59, the same mark he had through 13 impressive starts during his strong rookie season in 2015.

In full, Nola is back to being … well, Nola. He's been able to catch batters looking on backdoor strike threes with his fastball. He's utilized his curveball in seemingly any count. He's struck out a batter per inning and been able to pitch deep into games with his fast-paced efficiency.

Nola beat the Brewers twice in 2016, allowing just one run on 12 hits in 13 innings while striking out 16. His ERA against other teams was 5.32. Hernan Perez is the only Brewer with two hits against him while no current Milwaukee batters have an extra-base hit against him. Domingo Santana is 1 for 6 while Jonathan Villar is 0 for 5 with two walks.

3. Full Nelson
If you looked at the Jimmy Nelson of last season and then saw him this season, you would be convinced you're watching two different pitchers.

In 2016, Nelson issued 86 walks, the most in baseball, while also hitting the most batters (17) for the second straight season. He put up a horrendous 1.517 WHIP, 4.3 walks per nine innings and a career-worst home run rate. That was a recipe for a 4.62 ERA despite his underlying stats saying he should have been even worse. 

This season, the 28-year-old righty has been near the top of the NL Central-leading Brewers' rotation with a 3.30 ERA. How has he shaved more than a run off his average? He's posted career-best strikeout and walk rates. His K/9 rose by more than 2.5 strikeouts and his walks per nine fell two walks. That's significant progress. 

Looking at his repertoire, he hasn't changed his approach too much. He's thrown his four-seam fastball a little more than his sinker in 2017 vs. 2016, perhaps trying to move away from pitching to contact. Beyond his 94 mph fastball, he utilizes a high-80s slider and mid-80s curveball. He rarely uses his changeup.

4. The Brewers beyond Braun
Brewers slugger Ryan Braun hit his 21st career home run against Phillies pitching Friday. It was the big hit of the game, a grand slam that put Milwaukee up six runs in the early going. 

While the veteran leftfielder bats third for Milwaukee, there's much more to the surprise Brew Crew than just the former MVP. The player who made the largest headlines this season is Eric Thames. The first baseman came over after dominating in Korea. He had previously struggled in Toronto and Seattle back in 2011-12 despite being a top prospect for the Blue Jays at one point. Thames hit 11 home runs in 24 April games this season. He's fallen off some since but hit three home runs and batted .333 in his last six games before the break.

Further down in the lineup, Travis Shaw has shaken off a trade from the Boston Red Sox and cemented his role as the cleanup hitter. He brings a .296/.366/.565 slash line into action Saturday after he was acquired in the offseason. 

There's also plenty of youth excelling in Milwaukee. Santana has hit 15 home runs and provided some all-around hitting in the middle of the order. Keon Broxton has hit for a low average and struck out 117 times (the most in baseball), but has 30 extra-base hits, including 14 home runs. Shortstop Orlando Arcia, 22, has been solid with the bat while truly making his impact with his glovework.

As a team, the team has led the NL in home runs and stolen bases so far this season while posting the ninth-highest Wins Above Replacement in all of baseball from their non-pitchers.

5. This and that
• The Phillies won four of seven against the Brewers last season, a year after going 0-7 against Milwaukee. That 2015 series sweep was the only time the Phillies failed to take a game in a season series of more than four games against an opponent since 2004.

• Both Cameron Rupp and Andres Blanco have home runs off Nelson in their careers. Odubel Herrera is 2 for 3 with two doubles and three walks. Tommy Joseph is 2 for 2 while Rupp is 2 for 4 with a double and the homer.

• In three career starts against the Phillies, Nelson is 1-1 with a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings, allowing three homers in those frames.

• Maikel Franco had four hits Friday. It was his second four-hit game of the season (June 13 vs. Boston). Going into this series, Franco had just four hits in his last 26 at-bats.

Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

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Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

Gabe Kapler on Friday added to his coaching staff by naming Jim Gott the Phillies' bullpen coach.

Gott was the minor-league pitching coordinator for the Angels the last five seasons and the pitching coach for the Arizona League Angels the three years prior to that role.

He played for the Blue Jays, Giants, Pirates and Dodgers over 14 major-league seasons as a starter and reliever. Gott, now 58 years old, compiled a 3.87 ERA while making 96 starts and converting 91 saves.

Kapler and the Phillies still need to name a pitching coach and first-base coach. Last week, they named Dusty Wathan third-base coach and hired John Mallee as hitting coach, while retaining Rick Kranitz, who was the assistant pitching coach last season (see story). He could fill the main pitching coach vacancy, although his role is currently to be determined.

In 2017, Bob McClure served the Phillies as pitching coach and Mickey Morandini was first-base coach.

MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

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MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

Houston Astros dynamo Jose Altuve has won the American League MVP award, towering over New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge by a wide margin.

The 5-foot-6 Altuve drew 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Altuve batted a major league-best .346. He hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs, scored 112 times, stole 32 bases and showed a sharp glove at second base.

The 6-foot-7 Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday. He set a rookie record with 52 home runs.

Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians finished third. The award was announced Thursday.

Altuve helped lead the Astros to their first World Series championship. Voting for these honors was completed before the postseason began.

Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP award, barely edging Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds.

In the closest MVP vote since 1979, Stanton became only the sixth player to win from a losing team. Stanton led the big leagues with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs (see full story).

MLB: Manfred says pace changes will happen with or without union
Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

There are ongoing talks for a new posting system with Japan to replace the deal that expired Nov. 1, one that would allow star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani to leave the Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters to sign with a big league team (see full story).

Mariners: Team makes trade, raises available money for Japan's Otani​
The Seattle Mariners have gained more flexibility if they want to try to sign star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani.

They acquired an additional $500,000 for their international signing bonus pool from the Chicago White Sox in a trade for Brazilian right-hander Thyago Vieira.

Otani, a 23-year-old right-hander, would be limited to a minor league contract with a signing bonus under Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement. The trade announced Thursday increases the Mariners' available money for a signing bonus to $1,557,500. Seattle has spent $3,942,500 on bonuses in the signing year that started July 2 from a pool that rose to $5.5 million with the trade.

The 24-year-old Vieira made his major league debut with a scoreless inning against Baltimore on Aug. 14, his only big league appearance. He was 2-3 with two saves and a 3.72 ERA in 29 games this year for Double-A Arkansas and 0-1 with two saves and a 4.58 ERA in 12 games for Triple-A Tacoma.

Chicago is restricted to a maximum $300,000 signing bonus because it exceeded its pool in a previous year under the old labor contract.