ATLANTA – Aaron Nola crossed one of the most respected thresholds for a starting pitcher on Sunday afternoon.
He pitched six innings in the Phillies’ latest loss – a 2-1 setback to the Atlanta Braves – putting him at 205 1/3 innings for the season.
The Phillies tailored their September rotation so Nola could face the Braves in his final two starts. The thinking was that he could be a difference-maker with the NL East title on the line. But by the time Nola took the mound Sunday afternoon, the Braves had already owned the division title for 20 hours. Sunday’s win completed a four-game sweep of the withered Phillies, who are 15-29 since leading the division on Aug. 5.
The question regarding Nola now is: Will the 25-year-old right-hander make his final start, scheduled for Friday night at home against Atlanta?
There are two schools of thought:
1. He is healthy. Let him finish his stellar season with five or six innings of work, tip his hat to the fans and head off into an offseason of rest and conditioning.
2. Shut him down, let the recovery from a long season begin now, and take a look at one of the kids.
After Sunday’s game, manager Gabe Kapler was at first pretty firm in saying Nola would make his final start. Later, he softened and said he wasn’t ready to make any definitive statements. In addition to Kapler, Nola and the front office will surely have a say in the decision.
“One of the main things I'm working on is to make sure that Aaron's wishes are honored,” Kapler said. “If he has six more innings this year, it's not going to make a material difference, in my opinion, whether he can add on to that next year or whether we have to scale him back. I definitely want this to be something that we discuss with Aaron. He will be very involved in any decision that we make.”
Nola cast his vote after Sunday’s game.
“Two-hundred innings was one of my goals this year,” he said. “Another one of my goals was to make every start and stay healthy all year.
“Yeah, I want to make all my starts.”
Nola gave up just four hits Sunday. His recent troubles with the long ball -- nine in his last five starts -- continued as he gave up a tie-breaking solo shot to Lane Adams on an 0-1 changeup in the fifth. The Phillies’ offense could not get Nola off the hook. Odubel Herrera got picked off first base in the top of the sixth and the replay actually drew chuckles from the crowd when it was shown on the big board. (That’s what it has come to.) The Phils then left the bases loaded in the ninth.
Nola is 16-6 with a 2.45 ERA in 32 starts. His WHIP is 0.98. He has struck out 216 and walked 54.
Whether his season is over or not, it has been a great one.