Phillies 2, Rockies 1: Masterful Aaron Nola ties career high with 12 strikeouts

Phillies 2, Rockies 1: Masterful Aaron Nola ties career high with 12 strikeouts


About three hours before first pitch, manager Gabe Kapler said there is always a feeling within the clubhouse whenever it's Aaron Nola's turn in the rotation.

They call it "Nola Day."

Consider Saturday "Nola and Harper Day."

The right-handed ace struck out 12 over six innings, while Bryce Harper clubbed a no-doubt-about-it home run as the Phillies beat the Rockies, 2-1, on a picturesque afternoon at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies are 26-19, first in the National League East, and 17-10 at home.

The Rockies dropped to 20-24 after losing the first two games of this three-game set.

The keys

 • A Rockies lineup scoring over five runs per game was quieted by Nola, who looked like the 2018 version of Nola, when the righty finished third in NL Cy Young voting.

• The Phillies' bullpen, which entered with the NL's third-best ERA (3.88), was massive. Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez got the Phillies out of trouble in the seventh inning. Hector Neris notched a two-inning save.

Phillies relievers have thrown six scoreless innings over the last two games, both one-run wins.

• Rockies right-hander Antonio Senzatela had not seen much of this Phillies lineup, but he battled through five innings. The Phillies, who came in seeing 4.04 pitches per plate appearance, most in the National League, forced Senzatela to throw 101 pitches and four walks.

Nola, have mercy

Nola's first inning was a clear-cut indicator Saturday could be a special start. He painted the corners and struck out the side, all looking, on 13 pitches. In his previous start, he labored through a career-high 38-pitch first inning.

On Saturday, Nola had it all working. His pitches were darting and dipping as everything moved to keep Colorado guessing. His 12 punchouts tied his career high. He scattered eight hits and walked just one over 106 pitches.

This effort came on the heels of Nola matching his shortest outing of the season with three innings in a no-decision against the Brewers.

On Saturday, he was relieved in the seventh with no outs following a leadoff triple and run-scoring double as the Rockies trimmed the Phillies' lead to 2-1. Nola was not yet at 100 pitches and working against the bottom of the order heading into the frame, so Kapler justifiably had no problem sending him back out there for the seventh.

Nola improved to 3-0 with 38 strikeouts and four walks in four career starts against Colorado, which has had a top-10 offense in each of the past five seasons.

Through his first 10 starts last season, Nola was 6-2 with a 2.37 ERA, 57 strikeouts and 14 walks.

This season, he's 4-0 with a 4.47 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 21 walks. He's rounding into form.

Has it landed yet?

 As the Phillies took the field before first pitch, Harper took his typical bow in salute to the fans in the right-field seats.

After seeing one pitch in the bottom of the first inning, he could have easily taken another bow. He put the Phillies ahead, 1-0, with a mammoth home run to a spot baseballs don't often land at Citizens Bank Park (see story).

Harper went 2 for 3 with his big homer, a double and a walk. He has hit safely in four straight games after going 10 for 70 (.143) over his previous 21 games.

Love for the glove

The Phillies had not played cleanly in the field over the previous three games, committing five errors and some lapses in decision-making.

They were sound Saturday. Rhys Hoskins made a sliding catch in foul territory to retire Nolan Arenado during the fourth inning. Maikel Franco made a nice play ranging to his left and throwing out pitcher Senzatela in the fifth inning. He also cut down the potential game-tying run at the plate in the seventh with a 5-2 tag out.

The Phillies are 21-5 when they don't make an error.

At the dish

The Phillies went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine on base. They registered six hits and five walks

Daniel Murphy, the former Mets and Nationals infielder now with the Rockies, entered 10 for 29 (.345) with three doubles, two homers and a triple lifetime against Nola. He went 0 for 2 with two strikeouts and a walk Saturday vs. Nola.

Can't beat it

A sold-out crowd got a good one. It was 78 degrees with a blue sky at first pitch. Nola, Harper and the bullpen put the cherry on top.

Up next

The Phillies will go for the three-game sweep Sunday before opening a seven-game road trip against the Cubs (four-game series) and Brewers (three-game series), the two-best teams in the NL Central.

Right-hander Jerad Eickhoff (2-2, 2.65) takes the ball Sunday (1:05 p.m./NBCSP) for the Phillies and will oppose Rockies left-hander Kyle Freeland (2-5, 5.68).

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Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Maikel Franco has been basically unplayable for six weeks. Since a three-RBI game on May 1, he had gone 18 for 118 entering Monday's game. That's a 40-game stretch in which he hit .153 with a .206 on-base percentage and only two home runs.

He had lost starting reps to Sean Rodriguez. He lost playing time to newcomer Brad Miller. When Roman Quinn started in center, Scott Kingery played third base and Franco sat.

This happened last year as well. Franco lost playing time on separate occasions to J.P. Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Jesmuel Valentin. He reclaimed the job by finishing 2018 strong and getting out to the scalding start in April.

We're seeing the ebbs and flows of Franco play out again. On Monday night, he was a huge difference-maker, hitting the game-winning home run in an eventual 13-7 Phillies victory (see observations). A game-winner in a six-run win might not sound all too important but it was, as it put the Phils ahead 7-6 at the time and was the third time in five innings the Phillies were able to wrestle the lead away from the Mets.

In all, Franco went 3 for 4 with that mammoth blast to the brick wall in center field, two hard-hit singles, two runs scored, an intentional walk and two impressive defensive plays at third base, where he has been more sound than Kingery.

It felt like April again.

"We need this guy," Jean Segura said of Franco. "We are a different type of team when we have him because Maikey can change the dynamic of the game from one swing of the bat. We saw it today. One swing and he gives you the lead, swinging 3-0 there. For me, to have him next to me and to rely on is huge. Our lineup is gonna look better and more powerful when we have him in it."

What led to Franco starting this game?

"I was hoping it would remind him of how good he was just thinking about his at-bats against (Steven) Matz," manager Gabe Kapler said. "You could tell right when he stepped in the batter’s box that there was a determination and a focus that we had not seen in some time."

This particular Phillies lineup, utilized by Kapler for the first time, indeed looked powerful. You take it for what it is — one game, against a left-hander the Phillies have hit in the past, Matz. It was still the kind of night you needed to see from the Phillies, who had scored just 15 runs in their last seven games and looked lifeless offensively for the better part of two weeks.

Kingery led off for the first time and had three hits. He continues to show that he can not only play all over the field but also hit up and down the batting order.

"When he's right, it doesn't matter if he's playing left field or center field or shortstop or third base or second base," Kapler said. "It doesn't matter if he's hitting in the three-hole, the five-hole, seven-hole or one-hole. He's good enough. He's athletic enough. He's mentally tough enough to handle those transitions. What we're seeing right now is it doesn't matter what position he's playing or what lineup spot he hits in, he's just a good baseball player."

Segura, in the two-spot, had four hits for the first time as a Phillie. Segura's batting average had dropped from .325 to .268 in one calendar month but he raised it to .277 with four well-struck balls, including his eighth home run of the season.

The lack of the "good Segura" these last three weeks has loomed as large as the season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen. In conjunction, those two circumstances led to meager performances from the top of the Phillies' order.

"I'm coming back," Segura said with a smile. "It's a long season, still plenty of games left. I know what type of player I am, I know what I can contribute to the team. It's a tough division to play in and to be honest with you guys, being my first time in the East, it takes a tough stretch to step on it and keep going."

One win over the Mets won't cure all the Phillies' ills, nor will it greatly reduce the pressure on Kapler or GM Matt Klentak. If the Phils go cold Tuesday night, the same concerns will again be raised.

But for one night, we saw again what this Phillies lineup can look like when more than one or two guys are seeing the ball well. They had 19 hits in the win, with five players contributing multiple hits and every starting position player reaching base before one out was made in the fourth inning. 

All hail the curveball machine.

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Phillies 13, Mets 7: With another new lineup, Phillies have best offensive game of season

Phillies 13, Mets 7: With another new lineup, Phillies have best offensive game of season

The post-curveball-machine Phillies are 1-0 and hitting .442.

Behind 19 hits, the Phils beat the Mets, 13-7, on Monday night to snap a seven-game losing streak. It came hours after a group of Phillies — J.T. Realmuto, Brad Miller, Sean Rodriguez, Andrew Knapp — was on the field to do some early hitting against breaking balls, both from a live arm and the machine.

There was a whole lot of early scoring in this one, but Maikel Franco's two-run home run to center field off Steven Matz in the bottom of the fifth put the Phillies ahead for good. They erased Mets leads in the first, fourth and fifth innings.

After six innings, 33 of the 69 total batters in the game had reached base. J.D. Hammer's clean top of the seventh was the only 1-2-3 inning for either side all night.

Another new-look lineup for Gabe Kapler, with Scott Kingery in the leadoff spot, looked strong. Up and down the lineup, the Phillies made loud, powerful contact. It wasn't just limited to the top of the order — the Phils' 5-through-8 hitters were 8 for 17 with two walks, a homer, a triple and four RBI. Between the offensive breakout, the power and even the intentional walk to Franco in the eight-hole, it felt like April again.

With the win, the Phillies are 40-38. They avoided falling back to .500 for the first time since they were 0-0. The Mets are 37-42 and have lost nine of 14.

Confidence-builder for Franco

Franco needed a game like this. He reached base in each of his first four plate appearances, crushed a two-run shot off the brick wall past center field, and made multiple sterling defensive plays. On two different occasions, Franco charged a softly hit ball, barehanded it and fired to first base. Both resulted in outs, though one of the plays was overturned. Still, there are few third basemen in the game who make that particular play more effectively and consistently than Franco.

Franco thrives on confidence. He is perhaps more affected by it than any other Phillie. This night should result in more starts for him in the Mets series. It's not as if the Phils are bursting with better options.

Franco's home run came on a 3-0 pitch. According to the Phillies, Franco's five career home runs on 3-0 pitches are the most in Phillies history since that stat began being tracked. Chase Utley had four.

Big production up top

Expect to see this lineup for at least a few more games. Kingery had two hits in the leadoff spot, Jean Segura had his first four-hit game as a Phillie, Bryce Harper had two well-struck doubles and Rhys Hoskins went deep.

Harper's 23 doubles are second-most in the National League behind only Pittsburgh's Josh Bell. Harper also threw out Matz at third base from medium-deep right field in the fourth inning. 

Segura has shown signs lately of snapping out of a slump that saw him go 17 for 97 (.175) in the 25 games leading into Monday. Segura has a modest six-game hitting streak and is 9 for 25 over that span with two homers and two doubles. 

The Phillies need this version of Segura back. The season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen hurt badly by itself but it also coincided with Segura's cold streak and the result was so much less offense out of the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the Phillies' order. 

Eflin rocked

A night to forget for Zach Eflin, who allowed 11 hits, six runs and three homers over five innings. He had trouble putting Mets hitters away and the three home runs came on counts of 0-2, 1-2 and 0-1. 

The Phillies have not gotten a combination of quality pitching and quality hitting on the same night lately. Eflin's ERA rose from 2.83 to 3.26 in his worst start of the season.

Up next

It's a rare four-game series against the Mets in which the Phillies will not face Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard. The ace deGrom went on Sunday, and Syndergaard has a rehab start Tuesday before potentially being activated against the Braves this weekend.

Tuesday night at 7:05 — Jake Arrieta (6-6, 4.12) vs. Walker Lockett (0-1, 23.14)

Wednesday night at 7:05 — Nick Pivetta (4-2, 5.54) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (3-3, 3.75)

Thursday afternoon at 1:05 — Aaron Nola (6-2, 4.55) vs. Zack Wheeler (6-5, 4.69)

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