On a day when the Phillies sent another important pitcher to the injured list, Aaron Nola took the ball and made everything OK.
The soft-spoken right-hander went the distance in one of the best games of his career and Kyle Schwarber pounded his National League-leading 35th home run as the Phillies completed a four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with a 4-0 win Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park.
The victory improved the Phillies to a season-best 15 games over .500 and 48-26 under manager Rob Thomson.
The Phillies were 22-29 when Thomson took over for Joe Girardi on June 3. In his first meeting with the struggling group, Thomson told the club to focus on getting to .500.
They got there.
Then the focus became getting to five games over .500.
“Now, we’re looking to get to 20 -- somehow, some way,” Thomson said. “That’s the goal.”
The Phillies are sitting nicely on the NL playoff grid, in control of the second wild-card spot, 2 ½ games up on San Diego and four up on Milwaukee.
There are 37 games remaining in the regular season. And even though the schedule will bring them another also-ran on Friday night – the Pittsburgh Pirates bring a 47-77 record to town – the Phils do have challenges.
After losing closer Seranthony Dominguez to triceps tendinitis early in the week, the Phils lost top starter Zack Wheeler to forearm tendinitis on Thursday. Neither injury is considered serious and both pitchers are expected back in early September. But until they are on the mound looking like their old selves, concern is reasonable. After all, Dominguez and Wheeler are two of the team’s most indispensable talents.
At least the club has some experience surviving the loss of key players. The Phillies went 32-20 without Bryce Harper, who will come off the injured list and be the team’s designated hitter in Friday night’s opener against the Pirates.
Pitching with an extra day of rest that really seemed to help the life on his pitches, Nola rebounded from a poor outing against the Mets (he gave up five runs in five innings in a 7-2 loss) his last time out and held the lowly Reds (48-75) to five hits on his way to his third career shutout and second of nine innings. Nola walked none and struck out 11.
“Complete control,” Thomson said. “He was fantastic. After that last start against the Mets, he was disappointed. He came out and put the pedal to the floor and got on it. Really impressive.”
Nola had everything going – fastball, sinker, curveball, changeup, cutter. He threw 101 pitches and got 16 swings and misses, eight on his curveball. Five of his strikeouts came in the last two innings. When it was over, the smallish but very appreciative crowd of 21,123 saluted him with a standing ovation.
With J.T. Realmuto getting a night off, Garrett Stubbs got the start behind the plate. Nola’s performance left Stubbs gushing.
“My God, Aaron Nola is really good at pitching,” Stubbs said. “That guy is unbelievable. That was so much fun.
“Around the league, Aaron is known for his curveball, but tonight he had more than just a curveball and that’s probably a big reason he got to complete the game. When you have to think about more than one pitch – and for him, if you’re thinking about the curveball all the time, he can still throw it because it’s that good – but tonight they had to think about everything so that makes for kind of a video game back there.”
With Realmuto and Alec Bohm getting a rest, the Phillies’ offense was not exactly robust, but it was more than enough for Nola.
Schwarber clubbed a solo homer to center in the third inning and Edmundo Sosa, who started at third in place of Bohm, drove in three runs with a sacrifice fly and a base hit. Sosa has proven quite valuable since being acquired from St. Louis before the trade deadline. Schwarber has been valuable since Day 1, perhaps the team’s most valuable player. His homer traveled 451 feet. It was the longest hit by any player at Citizens Bank Park this year so Harper will have something to shoot for when he returns Friday night.
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