Phillies name Aaron Nola 2019 opening day starter

Phillies name Aaron Nola 2019 opening day starter

For the second year in a row, Aaron Nola will be the Phillies' opening day starter, manager Gabe Kapler announced Friday.

It comes as no surprise. Nola finished third in NL Cy Young voting last season when he went 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA. With this new Phillies offense, Nola could win 20-plus games if he pitches like he did a season ago.

Nola will face the Braves on opening day just as he did in 2018. This time, the game is at Citizens Bank Park. And Nola, barring a bad outing, will almost certainly exceed 68 pitches this time. Kapler made headlines last season by pulling Nola after the righty had pitched 5⅓ solid innings. Left-hander Hoby Milner replaced Nola with one out and a man on second and the Phils up 5-0. Freddie Freeman promptly hit a two-run homer, and the Braves scored six times in the final two innings for the comeback win.

If Nola pitches on regular rest, the Phillies could start him twice in the first four games of the season and three times in the first eight because of off-days.

The Braves' best pitcher last season, Mike Foltynewicz, may not be ready for opening day because of a sore right elbow. If he's unable to go, the Braves could turn to Julio Teheran, who has started each of their last five season openers.

Bryce Harper is 18 for 40 with eight home runs off Teheran. He's reached base in 30 of 52 career plate appearances against him.

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Phillies 28-man roster: Who might they cut Thursday?

Phillies 28-man roster: Who might they cut Thursday?

Wednesday, the Phillies took part in one of MLB's on-the-fly adjustments to the 2020 season, a 7-inning doubleheader.

Thursday brings another. On Thursday, teams will have to trim their rosters from 30 players to 28. Rosters will remain at 28 players for the rest of the regular season and postseason, according to multiple national reports. 

This is a different process than MLB laid out prior to the season, when the plan was to have teams trim from 30 to 28 after two weeks and then from 28 to 26 after another two weeks. The change is a response to how MLB's first two weeks have gone, with the Phillies, Marlins and Cardinals all sitting entire weeks because of COVID-related concerns. (Unlike the other two teams, the Phillies sat despite none of their players testing positive.)

When the Phillies make their two roster moves Thursday, they'll have played only six games and will have had far less of an opportunity than most of the league to declare which two players on their 30-man roster are most expendable. 

The Phillies have carried 16 pitchers and 14 position players to this point. It is likely that one cut will come from the bullpen and one from the bench. The Phillies' schedule moving forward — 56 games in 54 days beginning Wednesday — and the presence of the DH lessening bench usage would seem to make it more worthwhile for the Phils to keep 15 pitchers.

The Phillies' five bench players are Roman Quinn, Andrew Knapp, Phil Gosselin, Neil Walker and Kyle Garlick. 

Knapp, the backup catcher, isn't going anywhere. 

Quinn is one-half of a centerfield timeshare (at least until someone seizes the job, which Adam Haseley may be doing) and is almost certainly staying put as well. Even if Haseley wins the job outright early this season, Quinn has bench value as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner.

Walker is a switch-hitter who can play five different positions, which is also valuable off the bench.

Gosselin is too hot offensively to lose right now. 

The position player on the bubble is probably Garlick, a corner outfielder with pop and an ability to hit lefties. Garlick, who has options left and could be sent to Lehigh Valley without being removed from the 40-man roster, made his first start as a Phillie in Game 1 of Wednesday's doubleheader, batting ninth as the designated hitter. 

In the bullpen, it's still too early to make out a clear hierarchy. It could be Austin Davis or Cole Irvin, who are clearly behind Jose Alvarez and Adam Morgan among Phillies lefties. It could be Ramon Rosso, who was erratic in his first and only appearance so far this season. The Phillies' lack of right-handed velocity in the bullpen could keep him around, though. The Phillies have played so few games to this point that a reliever could potentially separate himself with a strong showing in the doubleheader.

Stay tuned Thursday.

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Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

The Phillies will host the New York Yankees in a doubleheader today. Zack Wheeler, the Phils' big offseason free-agent acquisition, will start the first game and Aaron Nola will get the ball in the second game.

Dating back to August, the Phillies are winless in Nola's last eight starts. The trend needs to stop today.

Wheeler, so far, has been everything the Phillies could have asked for when they signed him for five years and $118 million. But, of course, he's only made one start — seven innings, one run in the 1-3 Phillies' only win of the season. Many more efforts like that will be needed from Wheeler over the life of his contract.

But this isn't about Nola, who needs to pitch well over these next two months if the Phillies are going to make the 16-team postseason field in this shortened, 60-game season.

And it isn't about Wheeler, the so far, so good right-hander who also needs to continue his good work if the Phils are to have a chance.

This is about the Phils' other free-agent acquisition this winter.

This is about Didi Gregorius.

Now, obviously the sample size is ridiculously small because, well, you know all about the Miami Marlins and how they forced the Phillies into an unwelcome hiatus after just one weekend of play — but through the first four games, hasn't Gregorius been fun to watch?

He's made all the plays, smoothly, some even with a flare, at shortstop.

He's hit in every game.

He's shown pop with two homers. (And the way he turns on anything middle-in, he'll hit a lot more at Citizens Bank Park.)

And, he's played with a smile under the mask he wears to protect himself and others in this time of COVID-19. Gregorius is committed to wearing the mask because he has an underlying health condition.

Having watched Gregorius up close since the start of spring training back in February, we have been captured by his smile, his energy, his effervescence and love of playing the game. These can be infectious qualities of the most beneficial kind on any team and they have shown on the diamond in Gregorius' next-door neighbor, Jean Segura. 

Over the winter, there were questions about how Segura would deal with coming off of shortstop to accommodate Gregorius. Would he feel slighted, pushed aside? Would he pout? These were legitimate concerns because Segura has always been a little high maintenance.

Well, Segura moved over to third base with nary a protest. He put his head down, started working, and has taken to the new position. Having been a shortstop, Segura has the ability to succeed anywhere in the infield if he puts his mind to it. He's the one who has made the transition. But we believe that Gregorius' encouragement and positivity has played a role in Segura's acceptance of the challenge. Gregorius has bonded with Segura, convinced him of his importance and even gotten him to smile a little bit more. All of this might end up making Segura a better player. It has already helped the team solve the matter of how to get Scott Kingery to his best position, second base.

Over the winter, when the Phillies signed Gregorius, we asked a scout about him. We heard all the expected stuff about Gregorius' play on the field, the pop, the throwing arm that was getting better after surgery. But we also heard something that surprised us.

"He was the leader of that Yankees team," the scout said. "Great makeup."

So far in Philadelphia, we're seeing that. We're seeing that with the connection he has made with teammates, particularly his next-door neighbor, Segura.

But these Phils will need more than leadership and strong teammate behavior from Gregorius if they are going to make the postseason. Intangibles can only take you so far.

So what will the Phils need from Gregorius on the field? That's easy. Sound defense, left-side pop, big hits with men on base, get on base, hit for average. Basically, what every other team needs from its top players if it is going to be successful. Gregorius is just two seasons removed from a career-best .829 OPS with the Yankees. An elbow injury derailed that season. He's healthy now. Maybe a season like that — over a shorter track — is in the cards.

If it is, it won't just help the Phillies, it'll help Gregorius, as well. He signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Phillies in the offseason and he'll be right back out there on the market this winter.

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