No punch in the face this time: Aaron Nola shows why he’s the Phillies’ horse

No punch in the face this time: Aaron Nola shows why he’s the Phillies’ horse

BOSTON – The Phillies owed Aaron Nola one in this ballpark.

It was just over a year ago when he took the mound in venerable Fenway Park for the first time in his career. He wrung eight innings of one-run ball out of his right arm in a taut pitcher’s duel against David Price that night. The Phillies ended up losing, 2-1, in 13 innings because they didn’t generate enough offense and because Odubel Herrera made a couple of glaring mistakes (one on the bases and one in the outfield) that earned him a trip into manager Gabe Kapler’s office after the game. Later, Kapler delivered one of his most colorful quotes of the season and called the loss “a punch in the face.”

Fast forward to Tuesday night. Kapler spoke only in awe after watching his team pull out a tense 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox (see observations), mostly on the strength of Nola and his latest gem.

“He’s so tough,” Kapler said. “Man, is he resilient.”

Nola had to be tough and resilient because 1) the Phillies’ offense hibernated for a good chunk of the game, and 2) he pitched with traffic on the bases for much of the night.

The Phillies scored three runs in the first inning then did nothing the rest of the night as the Red Sox’ bullpen retired 15 straight at one point. Meanwhile, Nola got six outs in the fifth and sixth innings with a runner on second base to preserve a one-run lead.

The stress of those innings probably cost Nola a chance to go out for the eighth inning. He ended up with seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball, one walk and seven strikeouts to run his record to 12-3 and lower his ERA to 3.51. He threw 104 pitches and reached 94 mph on his 103rd pitch.

"Pretty standard," Rhys Hoskins deadpanned. "They've got a thousand RBIs in that lineup and he went through it three full times."

Kapler briefly thought about sending his horse out for the eighth inning.

“I did consider it,” the manager said. “He was good. He did a really good job. There were some high-stress innings, big pitches, some 95s. It was a lot. It was a really great performance and we wanted to hold on to that. It was the right time.”

The Red Sox entered the game leading the majors in hitting. They have a thunderous lineup that features 103 homers from their top four hitters. But Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin and Hector Neris got the final six outs to close out a night of strong Phillies' pitching. Neris benefitted from the ol’ at-‘em ball in the ninth as the Red Sox hit a couple of rockets in that inning, one right at shortstop Jean Segura for a game-ending double play.

Nola’s outing validated the organization’s plan to have him pitch as much as possible down the stretch. He will stay on his fifth day the rest of the way and that will allow him to make eight starts and pitch on the final day of the regular season, if necessary.

“I’m good to pitch whenever,” Nola said. “Whenever they tell me to pitch, I’ll be ready.”

The Phillies’ rotation is a series of question marks after Nola, hence the plan to ride him as much as possible.

“He’s as physically prepared as any pitcher I’ve even been around,” Kapler said. “He’s as mentally prepared as any pitcher I’ve ever been around. So I think he’s built for this. And, quite frankly, we’re in a pennant race and he’s far and away our best and most dependable pitcher so it’s time to take that sort of liberty.”

Tuesday night’s win enabled the Phillies to stay two games back in the NL wild-card race. Both they and the Mets are 65-60.

“I’ve always said anything can happen in this sport and we’re not out of it by any means,” Nola said. “We all believe we can keep winning.”

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More on the Phillies

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
You know the rest of the story.
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 


While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
Could the Phils make a major trade?
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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More on the Phillies

At the Yard podcast: Ken Rosenthal joins to talk Phillies, Kris Bryant, Anthoy Rendon


At the Yard podcast: Ken Rosenthal joins to talk Phillies, Kris Bryant, Anthoy Rendon

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman are joined by special guest Ken Rosenthal to talk Phillies and wrap up the Winter Meetings on the At the Yard podcast.

• Ken and Jim on the crazy week it was in San Diego

• Could we soon see a $500 million contract?

• Fallout of Rendon choosing the Angels

• Ken Rosenthal's thoughts on Phillies' offseason so far

• Phils have added more than Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius

• What's next for Phils with Winter Meetings in the rearview?

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Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Spotify / Stitcher / Art19