Phillies

Aaron Nola has a big fan in Boston

Aaron Nola has a big fan in Boston

Over the last two seasons, the Boston Red Sox have faced Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber and Blake Snell, just to name a handful of the top pitchers in the American League. That quartet of arms has combined for four Cy Young Awards and 10 other top 5 finishes in their careers.

So the Sox have seen some pitching over the last two seasons.

That’s what makes this comment about Aaron Nola from Boston manager Alex Cora so remarkable:

“We’ve seen him the last two years,” Cora said. “With all due respect to all the pitchers that we have faced, he’s been the best one. I love the way he competes, love his stuff, he doesn’t panic. He’s pitched twice over there at home and (once) here, but with the offense that we have, he still dominates us.”

Cora made this comment during his postgame session with reporters after Saturday night’s game against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Red Sox rallied against Hector Neris in the top of the ninth and won, 2-1. They did little against Nola earlier in the game. The right-hander scattered four hits and a run over seven innings and struck out nine.

On August 20 in Boston, Nola beat the Red Sox with seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball.

Last season, he pitched eight innings of one-run ball in a 2-1, 13-inning loss at Fenway Park.

So in three career starts against Boston, Nola has allowed just 12 hits and four runs over 22 innings. He has racked up 22 strikeouts and walked just five.

Nola, 26, signed a four-year, $45 million contract with the Phillies in February. Had he not signed and gone to arbitration this winter, his agent surely would have used Cora's appraisal in negotiations.

“They really have a good one,” Cora said. “He’s a special one. It would have been cool to face him in October, but I guess we’ll face him next year.”

If the Red Sox see Nola next season, it will have to be in the World Series. The two teams, frequent interleague opponents, are not scheduled to play each other during the regular season next year. Only a rematch of the 1915 World Series would pit them against each other in October. That actually sounds fun.

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Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

Outs are precious and Phillies pitcher Zach Eflin will get them his way in 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It was just one pitch in the first inning of an exhibition game Wednesday, but it painted a vivid picture of who Zach Eflin was as a pitcher last year and who he wants to be this year.

With a man on first base and one out, Eflin was facing Nelson Cruz. The Minnesota Twins’ designated hitter is one of the most dangerous power hitters in the game, having averaged 34 homers over the last 11 seasons.

The count went full on Cruz and Eflin didn’t hesitate. He went to his best pitch, the sinking fastball. Cruz beat a hard ground ball to third and Jean Segura made a nice backhand play to start a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame.

“I was pretty excited about that,” Eflin said later. “Going back to my sinker. It’s a situation where I need to throw it.”

Eflin was asked what pitch he would have thrown in that situation last season.

“Ah, last year, maybe fastball at the top of the zone,” he said. “Maybe I would have tried to rip a hard cutter or slider. Something like that.”

The sinker has always been Eflin’s bread and butter pitch. But last season, under former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young, he was encouraged to emphasize four-seam, power fastballs at the top of the strike zone. He did have some success with the approach early in the season, but eventually lost his way and his spot in the rotation. After some soul searching and some counsel from teammates such as Jake Arrieta, Eflin decided that if he ever returned to the rotation he would go back to featuring his best pitch, a fastball with movement down in the zone. He returned to the rotation in mid-August, ironically when Arrieta went down with an elbow injury, and pitched well over the final weeks of the season to solidify his place this year's season-opening rotation.

“It’s not easy,” said Eflin, recalling last season’s struggles. “When you’re trying to be someone you’re not, it’s not the best way to go about it.

“At the end of the day, we want to feel as good as we can on the mound and when you’re trying to do something different, you don’t feel good.”

With each passing day, another pitcher seems to step up and offer thoughts about how wonderful life has been under new pitching coach Bryan Price in the first few weeks of camp. Price is open-minded to the new-school ways of pitching, but he’s committed to bringing back some old-school philosophies. He has stressed the down-and-away fastball. He has stressed that pitchers work to their strengths. For Eflin, that means the sinker.

“What everybody is focused on right now is being themselves and realizing what got us to the big leagues and taking advantage of doing what you’re good at, so I think that’s a huge step for everybody,” Eflin said. “I think the underlying factor is just being able to stay to our strengths and really just attacking the hitters, and for us starters to go as deep as we can in a game and really relieve the bullpen as much as we can so they’re fresh come the end of the season and playoffs. Just that being put in our heads as a starting staff is huge.”

Though the sinker is Eflin’s strength, he still has the power on his fastball to pitch occasionally at the top of the zone. In fact, it’s important that he do that occasionally to change a hitter’s eye level and prevent them from sitting on a particular pitch or location. Eflin knows this. He learned a lot about himself and pitching last year. That much was evident in the first inning of his spring debut Wednesday: Sinker, ground ball, double play.

“Outs are really precious in this game regardless of how hard they hit it, so just to be able to do that is good,” he said.

Phanatic Tattoo Guy was terrified by new-look Phanatic

Phanatic Tattoo Guy was terrified by new-look Phanatic

Like everyone in the Philadelphia area, Dunphy was terrified when Jim Salisbury first broke the news last week the the Phillies would be introducing a "new-look" Phanatic over the weekend.

That's because Dunphy has the big green guy tattooed on his stomach with the Phanatic's snout being strategically placed over his belly button.

I spoke with Dunphy today to see how he's coping with the change and what it means for the future of his stomach.

"I was scared at first that it was going to be a complete change," Dunphy said. "'This is going to be my luck,' I thought. 'I go viral with the Phanatic on my stomach and then they go and drastically change it.'"

Much to his and the rest of Philly's chagrin, the changes were more subtle. A shorter snout, different shoes, a blue tail, etc

"The only thing that really looks different now from the tattoo is the stars around the eyes," he said.

So how does a guy with so much invested in  the Phanatic feel about the new look?

"I’m not too mad at," Dunphy said, adding that he does not plan on altering his Phanatic portion of his tattoo.

"Tattoo is staying the same. I’m adding more stuff around it, color everything. Phanatic is staying as is."

As it should be.

"I can always say it's a throwback," he said.

While Dunphy has no plans to alter his Phanatic tattoo, he did tease a big change coming to his artwork as a whole.

"I've got a big new addition planned but I'm keeping that on the DL," he told us.

Keeping it close to his chest, if you will.

Keep an eye on Dunphy's Instagram or Twitter to see the new addition revealed in the coming months. Or maybe find him on top of the Phillies dugout this summer alongside his big green pal.