Phillies

Jimmy Rollins is back in a Phillies uniform to deliver some pennant-race wisdom

Jimmy Rollins is back in a Phillies uniform to deliver some pennant-race wisdom

MIAMI — The Phillies are so desperate for offense that Jimmy Rollins was in uniform Tuesday night.

We’re kidding.

Well, half kidding.

Rollins was in uniform before Tuesday’s game, but he wasn’t making a comeback. Though he has not officially announced his retirement – as Ryan Howard did on Tuesday – Rollins’ playing days are over. He will likely make an official announcement in the next year or so and the Phillies would surely give the former National League MVP, World Series champion and all-time franchise hits leader a fitting sendoff.

For now, Rollins is spending a few days in Miami to impart a little pennant-race wisdom on his former club. Brad Lidge recently spent some time with the club and offered wisdom to some of the young relievers.

Rollins, who will turn 40 in November, watches many of the Phillies’ games at his Tampa home. He is familiar with the club, its place in the standings and recent struggles. He is eager to be a resource and he knows a thing or two about chasing down a division leader in the month of September. Remember 2007? It started with Rollins famously saying the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East and ended with them coming from 7½ games down with 17 to play to overtake the New York Mets and make Rollins’ words prophetic.

“Obviously, things haven’t gone well lately, but I just want to remind the ones that haven’t been through it that there’s a lot of time left,” Rollins said. “We were in a much worse situation. I was talking to Odubel (Herrera) about how fun it was. We were in the same position.

“You still need a little help along the way, but these guys are in a better position. They’re not as far back as we were.”

The Phillies entered Tuesday night having lost 17 of their previous 26 games. They were four games behind first-place Atlanta with 25 to play. The Phils were 3½ out of the wild card, trailing two teams.

“We’re always looking to utilize the expertise of our legends,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Jimmy’s presence is perfect right now in our clubhouse.”

So what is Rollins’ message to the young men who are where he once was?

“Just make sure you find ways to win and not find ways to lose,” he said. “There’s a mentality. It’s a mentality of hope versus knowing. When you hope to win you kind of hope things go your way and when they don’t it’s like, ‘Aw.’ When you know you’re going to win, you don’t know how, but you find that way. You can’t hope to win, you have to make it happen by knowing it’s going to happen. You have to believe it and know something good is going to happen.”

Rollins talked about the importance of not overthinking a situation.

“You have to know how to get out of your own way because when you’re struggling that’s what it is a lot of times,” he said. “It’s not that you’re overmatched, it’s not that you’re not prepared. It’s that your brain turns on and you’re thinking and you’re interfering with your natural process. When you’re walking down the hall, you don’t tell your right hand to turn on the light switch, you just do it, and playing sports is the same thing. You’re mind is clear, you know what needs to be done and you do it.”

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Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

Aaron Nola slipped in one key area last season and is out to improve on it in 2020

CLEARWATER — Aaron Nola did not have a bad season in 2019 by any stretch of the imagination. He made every start and went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA. There are pitchers all over baseball who would love to have a season like that.

But it's indisputable that Nola's 2019 season was not nearly as good as his 2018 season. In 2018, he was brilliant. He went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. He finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.

Nola's WHIP in 2018 was a sterling 0.975.

Last season, it was 1.265.

After pitching two scoreless innings in his spring debut Sunday, Nola reflected on his 2019 season.

"I didn't get ahead," he said.

He's right.

Check out the numbers.

In 2018, Nola threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. That ranked second in the majors to St. Louis right-hander Miles Mikolas (71.1).

Last season, Nola's first-pitch strike percentage slipped to 62.3. That ranked 39th in the majors, well behind leader Max Scherzer (70.4) and teammate Zach Eflin, who ranked fourth (68.6).

Nola ended up walking 3.6 batters per nine innings last season, up from 2.5 in his big year of 2018.

So, it's no surprise what Nola is working on this spring.

"Just fill up the strike zone and throw the ball down a lot," he said. "That's kind of the key. Get ahead of guys and stay ahead of guys. I just want to focus on having that tunnel vision around the plate."

If you've paid attention to the things Phillies pitchers have said this spring and even late last season, you know they weren't always comfortable with the practices of former manager Gabe Kapler and former pitching coach Chris Young. The theme in this camp, at least among the pitchers, can be summed up in one word.

Simplify.

"I'm just going to simplify some things and throw my fastball for strikes," Nola said. "I don't want to throw too hard too early in the count."

Nola pointed to his outing Sunday. He allowed a hit to open the game then got a double-play ball with a strike down in the zone.

"I want to try to get ground balls and I felt like I did that today," Nola said. "I got a double play and it's satisfying to get double plays."

Nola, 26, has so far enjoyed bonding with Bryan Price, his fourth pitching coach in as many seasons. Price espouses some traditional philosophies, like keeping the ball down. In that regard, he is similar to Bob McClure and Rick Kranitz, two former Phillies pitching coaches that Nola thrived under.

"That's been my mindset ever since I started to pitch and it is really stressed now," he said of pitching down in the zone. "I think that's what pitching should be and that's what we've always learned how to do.

"I think the state of the game is to simplify things and get back to that part of it. I look forward to my one-on-one bullpen sessions with (Price). When you have a bad game or not as good of a game as you want to go back to basics in the bullpen sessions. I've had previous pitching coaches like that and it has helped me a lot. Just to simplify things is going to go a long way."

Nola believes if he does a better job getting ahead early in counts that his curveball and particularly his changeup will become better weapons for him in 2020. His changeup blossomed under McClure and Kranitz during their stints in Philadelphia.

"My changeup wasn't as consistent as it was in previous years," Nola said. "I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.

"When I'm throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches."

Manager Joe Girardi has not named an opening day starter yet, but Nola is expected to be the guy when he does.

And when Nola takes the mound March 26 in Miami, his goal will be this:

Strike 1.

That's a big reason he had a great season in 2018 and why he slipped some in 2019.

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Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

Updates on Phillies spring training debuts of Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Phillies ace Aaron Nola made his first start of the spring Sunday while their new No. 2, Zack Wheeler, is slated to debut Saturday in Dunedin against the Blue Jays.

Wheeler has been throwing to hitters at the Phils' minor-league complex.

Fifth starter candidates remain in focus as Vince Velasquez makes his first start on Monday against the Orioles in Clearwater.

Nick Pivetta, another candidate, made his first start Saturday and showed a potential new weapon.

Lefty Ranger Suarez is being stretched out as a starter and could be a dark-horse candidate for the fifth job. He will get a start Tuesday at Bradenton while Jake Arrieta starts in Clearwater that day. Suarez pitched well out of the bullpen last year but was groomed as a starter in the minors.

Zach Eflin will make his spring debut Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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