Phillies

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

Phillies 8, Rockies 5: Aaron Nola battles; Phil Gosselin, Bryce Harper lead offense

BOX SCORE

DENVER — The Phillies finally solved the beast of Coors Field in an 8-5 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.

Aaron Nola delivered a solid start in earning the win and Phil Gosselin and Bryce Harper both drove in three runs.

Gosselin, a West Chester native and former Malvern Prep star making his first start, gave the Phils the lead with a bases-loaded double in the fourth.

The win snapped the Phillies' six-game losing streak in Coors Field, dating to September.

The Phils are 12-8, first place in the NL East.

Colorado is 8-13.

The keys

• Nola showed tremendous intangibles — resilience and toughness. He allowed first-pitch homers in the first and second innings and pitched with traffic on the bases most of the night. But he got big outs when he had to. For instance, he struck out two with the bases loaded to end the third inning, preventing a one-run Colorado inning from getting bigger. He got a big strikeout with a runner on third to end the fourth and stranded two in the fifth.

• Big hits had been scarce for the Phillies in this series, but they got one from Gosselin, a three-run double in the fourth inning.

• Nola helped himself at the plate. His successful sacrifice bunt in the third inning sent Maikel Franco to second and set up a two-out RBI single by Cesar Hernandez.

• Charlie Blackmon is always a thorn in the Phillies’ side. He won Friday night’s game for the Rockies with a two-run homer in the 12th then hit the first pitch Nola threw out of the park to give the Rockies a 1-0 lead in this one. Blackmon had hits in each of his first three at-bats against Nola. Nola struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the sixth but manager Gabe Kapler would not allow the right-hander to face Blackmon again, not in a one-run game. He summoned lefty Adam Morgan and he used his slider-fastball combo to strike out Blackmon and end the inning. Morgan has pitched nine scoreless innings this season. He has allowed three hits and one walk. He has struck out 10.

• Harper made everyone in the Phillies’ dugout breathe a little easier when he smacked a three-run homer in the seventh to turn a one-run lead into a four-run lead. That was big because the Rockies rallied for a pair of runs in the bottom of the eighth. Hector Neris survived a near game-tying homer by Trevor Story in the eighth en route to a five-out save. Andrew McCutchen clubbed a solo homer in the ninth to give Neris a little extra cushion.

Nola's night

Nola had struggled in his previous three outings so this was a clear step forward. Though he allowed nine hits over 5 2/3 innings, he limited the Rockies to three runs by getting big outs. He struck out nine and really seemed to find his breaking ball late in the outing. He got seven swinging strikes on the pitch. His fastball touched 95 mph. All in all, definitely something to build on.

Transactions

There were lots of them as the Phils placed three players on the injured list. The full recap and what it all means is here (see story).

Up next

Jerad Eickhoff, healthy after dealing with something similar to carpal tunnel syndrome the last two seasons, makes his first start of the new season in the series finale Sunday afternoon. He will face Rockies’ right-hander Jon Gray.

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West Chester native Phil Gosselin has suddenly become very important to Phillies

West Chester native Phil Gosselin has suddenly become very important to Phillies

DENVER — The Phillies on Saturday placed two shortstops on the injured list.

With Jean Segura down for at least seven games and Scott Kingery out longer than that — both have hamstring injuries — the Phillies will look to Phil Gosselin to handle the position.

Gosselin, 30, signed a minor-league deal with the Phillies this winter after spending parts of the previous six seasons in the majors with five different clubs.

A local guy from West Chester, Malvern Prep and the University of Virginia, Gosselin signed with the Phillies because they were in win-now mode and he figured at some point they might have a need for a veteran who can play all over the diamond.

That need is here.

Called up from Triple A on Wednesday, Gosselin took over at shortstop when Kingery went down on Friday night. For a short time, it looked as if Gosselin, playing in his first game for the team he grew up rooting for, might be one of the stars of a victory. He came back from an 0-2 count to stroke a two-out hit in the 12th then scored the tie-breaking run on a double by Bryce Harper. The Phils were one strike from winning when Charlie Blackmon clubbed a two-run homer against Juan Nicasio to give the Rockies a 4-3 win.

Manager Gabe Kapler called the loss “brutal.”

He could have added an unprintable adjective in front of that.

On Saturday, the Phils addressed the fallout.

Nicasio was in the game because Victor Arano had a tender elbow and could not go. Kapler said Arano was tender from a massage he had last week in Miami. (We’re guessing Sparky Lyle never had that issue.)

Arano joined Segura and Kingery on the 10-day IL.

To fill the void, the Phils called up infielder Mitch Walding and relievers Austin Davis and Drew Anderson from Triple A.

The Phillies were actually leaning toward playing Segura on Sunday. When Kingery went down, they decided it was best to make sure they got Segura back to 100 percent so they placed him on the IL to avoid the temptation of using him before he was completely ready. Segura will be eligible to return next Saturday so Gosselin’s starting assignment is temporary — but important.

Gosselin, who shined in spring training, hitting .405 with a 1.159 OPS, can play all over but most of his big-league time has come at second base and third base. He has played just 64 innings at shortstop in the majors. He has significantly more time there in the minors.

“It’s exciting,” Gosselin said of his opportunity. “I think all of us in here, guys that don’t play every day, want to play every day. We all want to get the chance, no matter if it’s catcher, right field. I’ll put in some work with (infield coach) Bobby Dickerson, keep working at it, and look to make all the routine plays out there so the pitchers have confidence in me.”

Behind Gosselin, the Phillies could use Cesar Hernandez, Roman Quinn or even Maikel Franco at shortstop in a pinch. The Phils have Sean Rodriguez and Andrew Romine at Triple A if more reinforcements are needed at the position.

There was no immediate word on how long Kingery would be out. Team medical personnel was still evaluating his MRI on Saturday night.

Kapler said it was difficult to see Kingery go on the IL.

"I watch Scott Kingery play like I’m watching a family member," Kapler said. "I feel that invested in watching him play and caring about his well being. It was an enormous blow to see him having the success that we all knew he could have and to know that was going to be interrupted. He’s going to be back on the field but it was that his progress, his flow, his confidence, and his health were interrupted in that moment and that was upsetting. I’m still upset about it."

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