Phillies

Nationals 4, Phillies 0: Phillies shut out by Stephen Strasburg and Nationals in first game of second half

Nationals 4, Phillies 0: Phillies shut out by Stephen Strasburg and Nationals in first game of second half

BOX SCORE 

The Phillies came back from the All-Star break Friday night and quickly lost more ground to a team ahead of them in the National League East.

The Phillies lost 4-0 to the Washington Nationals on Fireworks Night at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils had eight hits, but just one for extra bases — a one-out double by Maikel Franco in the second inning.

The third-place Phils now trail the second-place Nats by 1 ½ game in the NL East. Atlanta entered the night with a six-game lead in the division. The Braves were playing a late game at San Diego.

In late May, the Phils led the division by 3 ½ games over Atlanta and 10 games over Washington. The Phils have lost 22 of their last 36 games while Washington, the hottest team in baseball, has gone 29-11 since May 24.

On the mound

The Phillies’ starting pitching problems continued as Nick Pivetta lasted just five innings. (He threw 87 pitches). He allowed three runs, two on three singles and a walk in the second inning.

Starter Stephen Strasburg led the Nationals with six shutout innings. He gave up seven hits, walked one and struck out six.

Strasburg is 13-2 with a 2.62 ERA in 26 career starts against the Phillies.

Washington woes

The Phillies acquired Pivetta four years ago this month from Washington in a trade for Jonathan Papelbon. Pivetta has had his problems with the Nationals. In his career, he is 1-7 with a 10.06 ERA against them.

To deal or not to deal

Club president Andy MacPhail offered his take on how the Phillies will approach the trade deadline (see story).

Arrieta update

An X-ray confirmed the presence of a bone spur in Jake Arrieta’s right elbow. He will continue to pitch and make his next start on Sunday afternoon.

Arrieta was to face Washington ace Max Scherzer, but he was scratched with back soreness. Anibal Sanchez will make the start Sunday. 

Arrieta admitted that he received a fine from Major League Baseball for threatening to dent Todd Frazier’s skull last weekend. Arrieta said the fine was in the neighborhood of $2,500. Arrieta made the threat to reporters after last Saturday’s game between the Phillies and Mets (see story).

Transactions

J.T. Realmuto missed the game while on paternity leave. He is expected back Saturday. Andrew Knapp started at catcher. The Phils added Rob Brantly from Triple A as the backup catcher. To make room for Brantly on the 40-man roster, the Phils transferred reliever Pat Neshek to the 60-day injured list. Neshek is out with a hamstring tear. He is not expected back until September, if at all.

Up next

The Phillies will send Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.74) to the mound on Saturday night. He will oppose lefty Patrick Corbin (7-5, 3.34).

Nola is on a brilliant roll. Over his last four starts, he is 2-1 with a 0.61 ERA. He has allowed just 14 hits and two earned runs in 29 2/3 innings over that span. He has struck out 34 and walked eight.

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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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