aaron nola

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

Aaron Nola is ready for opening day — and a lot more than 68 pitches

CLEARWATER, Fla. — There will be no quick hook for Aaron Nola this opening day. As long as he’s effective and getting the job done, he’s staying in the game longer than 68 pitches. There are no restrictions.

“Absolutely none,” pitching coach Chris Young said.

With Young looking on and Andrew Knapp doing the catching, Nola made his final start of the spring in a minor-league game at Carpenter Complex on Friday. The Phillies chose to have Nola make his final tune-up in a controlled setting to ensure that he get his pitch count up and get into the sixth inning. He threw 91 pitches and left in the middle of the sixth.

Nola’s next outing will come Thursday at Citizens Bank Park against the Atlanta Braves. It will be Nola’s second straight opening day start against the Braves. Last year’s came in Atlanta and still lives in infamy. Nola was cruising along with a 5-0 lead in the sixth inning when rookie manager Gabe Kapler went to his bullpen and started playing the matchup game. The bullpen ended up blowing the lead, the Phillies lost, 8-5, and Kapler was roasted for taking his starter out at 68 pitches. Even the soft-spoken Nola was miffed.

As it turned out, Kapler’s controversial decision to hook Nola on opening day turned out to be a growth moment in the two men’s relationship.

“For sure,” Nola confirmed. “We had a talk after the game and he let me go the rest of the season. That’s what I want to do.”

For the season, Nola ended up pitching 212 1/3 innings, fifth most in the majors. He finished fourth in the majors in ERA (2.37) and quality starts (25) and fifth in WHIP (0.97) on his way to a third-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting. He threw a first-pitch strike 69.4 percent of the time. Only St. Louis starter Miles Mikolas (71 percent) did that more often.

Armed with a new four-year, $45 million contract, Nola, 25, comes into the new season with high expectations. He challenged for the Cy Young Award last season and there’s no reason he can’t do it again this season.

But Nola is more concerned with team expectations. On paper, the Phils are the most improved club in baseball and they’re expected to contend in the NL East. The improved roster and heightened expectations can be seen at the newsstands as Nola joins Rhys Hoskins and newcomers Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week.

“We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete,” Nola said. “Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.

“You look at the type of guys we’ve got, All Stars, MVPs, Cy Young winners. We got ‘em on our team. But there are no guarantees.  We still have to play and compete.”

As opening day comes into focus, players are always eager to get spring training over and begin the season. There seems to be an extra bit of juice in the Phillies’ clubhouse, a feel that this team knows it could be pretty good and it can’t wait to get started and see how it all plays out.

“That’s accurate, for sure,” Nola said. “We’re all excited and ready to go. It’s not just that we have good ballplayers and good talent in there, I think they’re good guys, too, and I think that makes more icing on the cake because the better guys you have, the better chemistry you have and the easier it is to play with each other.”

Nola said he is right where he needs to be physically. He feels great. He’s excited to see Citizens Bank Park sold out on Thursday and face Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. This season of big expectations is almost here.

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Aaron Nola can't wait to get a taste of that Citizens Bank Park electricity

Aaron Nola can't wait to get a taste of that Citizens Bank Park electricity

SARASOTA, Fla. — The sold-out crowd of 10,276 at Spectrum Field on Saturday gave Aaron Nola a taste of what to expect on March 28 when he makes his second consecutive opening day start.

The difference for Nola this time around, aside from the incredible hype surrounding this Phillies team, is that he won't be opening on the road.

What's Nola expecting the atmosphere to be like for that 3:05 p.m. game against the Braves?

"Oh, crazy," he said. "Packed house. I haven't opened up in Philly since I've been here. It was a packed house with Bryce yesterday and I'm pretty sure with the hype already, it's gonna be a packed house."

That will be the case at least 81 times this season. Phillies fans came out in droves on Saturday and made the hour trip to Sarasota on Sunday to watch Nola make his second start of the spring against the Orioles.

Nola struck out six over three innings, exiting after a hit began the fourth. He was a bit wild in the first inning, cutting his fastball more than he intended, but he had the curveball working and hit a groove in the second and third innings.

"I think it's gonna take a few more outings, but I'm getting close, I feel like," Nola said.

Monday's game in Clearwater against the Rays will be another capacity crowd, with Bryce Harper expected to make his first start as a Phillie in right field. 

And in a few short weeks, the results of Harper's at-bats and Nola's starts will actually matter.

"All we've heard is how great it is with the atmosphere," Nola said. "Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, all those guys, Chooch, Howie, Kyle Kendrick the other day. I would see it on TV, too."

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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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