Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Aaron Nola tries to get back on track for good


Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Aaron Nola tries to get back on track for good

Phillies (53-86) at Nationals (85-54)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

In an attempt to capture their second straight series victory, the Phillies began to rally against the Mets on Wednesday after facing a 6-0 deficit.

The Phils cut that lead in half in the top of the sixth inning, but the game was called in the bottom frame after a 57-minute rain delay. 

After dropping two of three to the Mets, the Phillies will go from facing one of the worst teams in baseball to the class of their division in the Nationals. 

•With seven games remaining between the two clubs, the Nationals hold a 7-5 advantage over the Phils in the season series. The last time the Phillies came out on top of the season series with the Nats was in 2014 when they went 11-8. Since, the Phils have gone 17-33 against Washington.

•Aaron Nola has hit a bit of a rough patch in what has otherwise been a strong season for the right-hander. After a string of 10 consecutive starts where Nola allowed no more than two earned runs, he was tagged for five and seven runs, respectively, in two straight mid-August starts. He appeared to snap out of that funk in his start against the Braves on Aug. 28, when he allowed one run on five hits over seven innings. 

But Nola was roughed up yet again in his last start, allowing six runs on 10 hits in a loss to the Marlins. Nola will look to get back on track for good against a team he had success against earlier this season. In his only start against Washington, back on April 14, he held a daunting Nationals lineup to just one run over five innings.

•That daunting Nationals lineup has been without Bryce Harper, who is hitting to the fine tune of .326/.419/.614 in 2017, since Aug. 12, when the superstar outfielder went down with a knee injury. It's unclear when Harper will return, but a very strong pitching staff and a deep lineup have kept the Nats afloat in Harper's absence. They're 16-9 since and trail the reeling Dodgers (who have lost nine of 10) by seven games for the top spot in the National League.

•Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt have gotten most of the of buzz for NL MVP, but Anthony Rendon deserves to at least be in the conversation. Rendon is hitting .303/.403/.539 with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs on one of the best teams in baseball. Oh yeah, and he's currently leading all of MLB in WAR (6.5), per FanGraphs.

•Three of the top five ERA leaders in all of MLB hail from the Nationals' pitching staff, in Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. The Phillies are currently scheduled to face just Scherzer from that uber-talented trio in this four-game series, but the Nationals have yet to announce their starter for Sunday's game.

Tanner Roark will take the mound for the Nats on Thursday. After boasting a 2.83 ERA across 33 starts last season, Roark has struggled in 2017. His ERA has risen to 4.48 and his WHIP is over 1.3. The good news for Roark? He's been better than his season averages across three strarts against the Phillies this season, pitching to a 3.06 ERA and 1.019 WHIP.

•On Wednesday, J.P. Crawford started at third base over Maikel Franco for the second straight game since being called up. Pete Mackanin plans on getting Crawford as much playing time as possible down the final stretch of the season and, while Mackanin said Crawford will get time in the middle infield as well, it will be interesting to see just how many more starts Franco gets in the final 23 games. Franco, who is slashing .223/.278/.387, has been substantially worse than Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis this season. 

•Bryce Harper had the best hair in baseball. Notice that last sentence says had and not has. Harper on Wednesday reveled his new look and it was a far cry from his awesome flow. 

Phillies' surprise honor for David Montgomery

Photo: Miles Kennedy

Phillies' surprise honor for David Montgomery

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies officials were conducting a meeting Thursday morning on the executive level of Spectrum Field to discuss plans for an expansion to the minor-league complex.

Just before 9:30 a.m., Dave Buck, the club's executive vice president, asked the group to take a walk over to the complex to look at some of the proposed changes.

It was all a ruse, a little ploy to lure David Montgomery to the other side and to an honor that left even the hardest of baseball men with a tear welling behind their sunglasses.

The Phillies named their indoor training facility in honor of Montgomery in a moving 30-minute ceremony that was attended by ownership, front office officials, many of the team's scouts and every player — including 175 minor leaguers — coach and manager in the organization.

Montgomery, who became club chairman in 2015, knew something was up when he saw the players assembled in uniform in the bullpen at the minor-league complex.

"I saw Odubel (Herrera) standing over there and thought, 'He's at the wrong field,' " Montgomery said after the event. "The next thing I know, Dave Buck is pushing me into the middle of this.

"I was stunned. I'm overwhelmed by what the organization has done."

Montgomery joined the Phillies' sales department in 1971 and eventually rose to club president in 1997. His contributions include a lucrative television deal, Citizens Bank Park and the 2008 World Series title. 

His love for the Phillies started way before that.

"My first memory is going to Connie Mack Stadium when I was about five," Montgomery said. "We had linoleum in our porch in the back in our house in Roxborough. I used to try and slide on the linoleum the way Richie Ashburn would slide into the bases. Then at age 24, I'm literally working with and sitting next to Richie in a cubicle at Veterans Stadium.

"I've just been so fortunate. I've had the opportunity to work for the team I rooted for in the city I've lived in and loved my entire life."

John Middleton, the team's managing partner, spoke during the ceremony. He described Montgomery as "a baseball man" and told the players that the state of the art facilities that they work and train in were the result of Montgomery's vision and commitment to player development. The Carpenter Complex minor-league facility has grown substantially since it was first planned and brought to life in the late 1960s by the late Paul Owens, the legendary Phillies executive for whom the entire complex is named.

Lifelong Phillies Roly deArmas and Larry Bowa spoke from the heart about how Montgomery always put respecting others first.

"David, you are the Phillie Way," Bowa said.

A banner emblazoned with the words David P. Montgomery Baseball Performance Center was unfurled. Montgomery looked at it with a tear in his eye.

"It's not about structures, though I couldn't be more honored," he said.

"It's about people."

Jake Arrieta's fastball pops in Phillies spring debut


Jake Arrieta's fastball pops in Phillies spring debut

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Newly signed Phillies ace Jake Arrieta pitched two innings against the Detroit Tigers in his spring debut with the club Thursday. He gave up three hits and two runs and exited after 31 pitches, 22 of which were strikes.

Wearing No. 49, Arrieta took the mound in his shirtsleeves on a breezy 61-degree day. He struck out the first batter he faced, JaCoby Jones, on three pitches. He also struck out the second hitter, Jeimer Candelario. The next batter, two-time American League MVP Miguel Cabrera, took Arrieta deep when he lined a 2-1 fastball over the rightfield wall. The line drive got a little help from the wind.

Arrieta allowed a single, a double and a run in the second inning. He also threw a wild pitch.

One positive to emerge from the outing: Arrieta's fastball touched 95 mph on the stadium radar gun. He also threw several fastballs the registered 94. Arrieta's fastball velocity had been a concern as it dropped from 94.9 mph in his Cy Young season of 2015 to 92.6 mph last season, according to PITCHf/x data.

Arrieta figures to make at least one more start in Florida, either in a major league or minor league game. The Phillies have not announced when he will step into the regular-season rotation. The pitcher believes he can be ready for the first week of the season.

Pat Neshek followed Arrieta and pitched the third inning.