Phillies

Aaron Nola has look of an organizational building block, strikes out 10 in beating baseball's best offense

Aaron Nola has look of an organizational building block, strikes out 10 in beating baseball's best offense

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The trade of reliever Pat Neshek to the Colorado Rockies was the headline grabber in the Phillies' world late Wednesday night (see story), but the most important occurrence of the evening happened on the little hump in the middle of the diamond at Citizens Bank Park.

Aaron Nola continued his mid-season surge with six shutout innings in a 9-0 win over the Houston Astros (see Instant Replay). The 24-year-old right-hander scattered four hits, walked one and struck out 10, a career high.

Over his last seven starts, Nola is 5-1 with a 1.49 ERA. He has struck out 60 batters in that span and walked just 14. Opposing batters have hit just .189.

Nola's recent success has come in the wake of an elbow injury that shut him down for the final two months of last season, some inconsistency early this season and a trip to the disabled list for an upper-back strain. Nola is pitching like the organizational building block that the Phillies projected him to be when they selected him in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2014 draft.

"I can't say enough about him, he's been outstanding," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're all really happy about the progress he's made. He's turned the corner, I think. I don’t have enough accolades for him."
 
Nola didn't beat just any team in his 16th start of the season.

The Astros have the second-best record in baseball at 67-34 and they lead the majors in just about every important offensive category, including runs, hits and homers. Sure, the Astros were without All-Stars Carlos Correa and George Springer — both American League MVP candidates — and standout Alex Bregman, but they still had a formidable lineup, led by hitting machine Jose Altuve, who ran his hitting streak to 18 games. He's hitting a cool .513 over that span.

"They're pretty good," Nola said. "I just had to stay with my plan that I've used the last few outings — get the leadoff hitter out and throw first-pitch strikes. I couldn't change anything just because they're in first place."

Nola used a three-pitch mix: a sinking fastball, curveball and his improved changeup. He finished off seven of his 10 strikeout victims with curveballs.

"I think location is important," he said. "You can have stuff but it might not get them as much as location. That's kind of what I was focused on. Making pitches in quality locations."

Nola's batterymate, Cameron Rupp, had a big night with a pair of two-run homers. The Phillies had nine extra-base hits and were 5 for 18 with runners in scoring position a night after going 0 for 10 in those situations.

"We got pitches to hit and we didn't miss them," Rupp said. "It was fun."

Rupp especially had fun catching Nola.

"Cy Young," he joked. "He's been outstanding the last month and a half. He's back to being the old Aaron that he was when he first came up. He's a guy that can lead a pitching staff. He knows how to pitch. He's got three pitches that he can put you away with. He's got a good fastball and his curveball has been great and now his changeup — he's learned how to use it and put guys away with it. When you do that, you're going to have a lot of success."

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Phillies pitching prospect Zach Warren has a dirty car but a bright future

Every one of the 15 minor-league prospects that the Phillies have invited to big-league spring training camp has a story.

Zach Warren’s is unique because (in his heart) he was a Phillie before he was technically a Phillie.

Warren grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, in the “glory era,” as he correctly called it, when the Phillies were racking up National League East titles, going to two World Series and winning one of them. Young Zach rooted for Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, but his eye always drifted toward the work being done by Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, not surprising because Warren was a left-handed pitcher on the rise in those days.

After successful runs at St. Augustine Prep in South Jersey and the University of Tennessee, Warren is still a pitcher on the rise. Three strong seasons in the Phillies’ minor-league system earned him an invite to major-league spring training camp next month in Clearwater.

At the Phillies’ prospect-education seminar last week at Citizens Bank Park, Warren recalled the pinch-me moment when he got the phone call from Josh Bonifay, the Phillies director of player development, telling him he’d been invited to big-league camp, and following up that thrilling news with a phone call to his dad, Geoff.

“I had dropped off my car to be worked on in Vineland the day before,” Zach recalled with a laugh, “and my dad was a little unhappy because it was dirty and had no gas. I told him the news and that cheered him up.”

Warren, 23, is one of a handful of left-handed relievers coming to big-league camp on non-roster invites. Most, if not all, will open the season in the minor leagues, but team officials, including new manager Joe Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price, clearly want to get a look at what they have for future reference. The Phillies, under general manager Matt Klentak, have been aggressive running relievers in and out from the minors so it’s likely several of these relievers will get a shot in the majors this season. And if they throw strikes and get outs – well, they’ll stick around.

Warren, 6-5 and 200 pounds, was selected in the 14th round of the 2017 draft. He features a mid-90s fastball, a slider and a changeup. He has racked up double-digit strikeouts-per-nine innings in each of his three pro seasons. He spent the last two seasons working late in the game, including closer, at Lakewood and Clearwater. In 116 2/3 innings the last two seasons, he allowed just 76 hits and 34 earned runs (2.62 ERA) while striking out 180 and walking 66.

The 2020 season will be a prove-it one for Warren. He projects to make the jump to Double A Reading and be an important part of that club’s bullpen. Double A is the level where they separate the men from the boys. Have success at the level and you can rise quickly to the majors.

“I’m not thinking too far in advance, where I’m going to be and things like that,” said Warren, showing a healthy perspective. “All I can control is working on what I need to work on to get better and becoming the best player I can be. My ideal blueprint for this season is to make strides and get better and help my team win games and get to the playoffs.”

First-timers in big-league camp are like sponges. They soak up the experience and try to learn from the players who’ve walked the miles they hope to one day walk. Warren has a healthy respect for Adam Morgan, another lefty reliever and SEC product from the University of Alabama, and is eager to speak with him.

“I want to learn from Adam Morgan,” Warren said. “He was up as a starter and had to go to the minors to learn, adapt and change, and he developed and got back. I think there’s a ton I could learn from someone like that.

“I’m just looking forward to learning from everybody. I think it’s going to be a great experience and I can’t wait to get down there and get going.”

With a clean car and a full tank of gas, of course.

 

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Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

Brian Dawkins schools Phillies prospects on how to handle boos

A group of Phillies prospects was in town this week for the organization’s annual prospects education seminar.

One of those lessons came from a legend.

Brian Dawkins, the most motivational athlete this city has ever seen, shared with the group his thoughts on playing in Philadelphia and responding to the passionate fan base.

“Playing in Philadelphia is different,” Dawkins said. “If you get on the field, there is a 99.99 percent chance you will be booed. The thing I always knew though was that you may boo me that one time but I’m not gonna make the same mistake again.”

The group included Alec Bohm, the Phillies’ top offensive prospect, and Cristopher Sanchez, a pitching prospect with a 100 mph arm profiled here by Jim Salisbury.

Check out the video here if you’re seeking some extra juice at the gym or just want to see Weapon X drop some jewels.

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