Nola makes his preferences clear ahead of a season that will test starting pitchers


Aaron Nola made his preferences pretty clear when asked about returning to a more normal routine after a shortened 60-game season.

Designated hitter or pre-2020 National League baseball? Gimme a stick, says Nola.

Six-man rotation? No thanks.

Full workload? Yes, please.

Nola made every start in 2020, pitching 71⅓ innings in the 60-game season. He started 34 games in 2019 and 33 in 2018, exceeding 200 innings both times and averaging 207. He's a true workhorse.

His goal every year is to make 30+ starts and pitch 200+ innings. You'll often hear starting pitchers refer to those benchmarks as the objectives rather than a specific ERA or strikeout rate or win total, because they mean you stayed healthy and took the ball every fifth day.

He wants to make his full complement of starts again in 2021, even if it means pitching 125 more innings than he did a year ago.

"It's going to be a big jump from guys throwing 150 to 200 innings, to throwing 70 innings, back up to what we want, 200 innings," Nola said. "But I think we're ready for that. Prior to spring training, a lot of us have worked really hard to keep our bodies and arms in shape to handle that load. 

"Conditioning our bodies and arms just to do that and then hitting again, I think it's going to take a couple of weeks but once we get back into the routine, I think our bodies will be in shape again."

Manager Joe Girardi brought up the point that more goes into a pitcher's workload than his innings count.

"I don't really know how to evaluate last year because I was not with Aaron Nola every day in between (his starts). But Aaron Nola is an extreme worker," Girardi said. "So the fact that he didn't throw 200 innings doesn't mean that he can't do it this year and is not on pace to do it. 

"He probably threw a lot more innings last year than he's getting credit for, just in his preparation, keeping his arm going during spring training one and spring training two. ... One of the things we will continue to try to put our finger on is when does he get tired and what are the best things to do to help him combat that?"

Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski suggested recently that the team could employ a six-man rotation at times to give their pitchers an extra day. You'll probably see teams across the league do it. Starting pitching depth is as important this year as ever because of the up-down-up nature of the last three seasons.

"I haven't heard anything on that," Nola said, "but for myself, I'd rather pitch on normal rest. It's what we're all used to, what I'm used to. I want to make 30-plus starts this year, too. ... That's what I train for."

The occasional extra day of rest should benefit Nola, though. There’s no denying that he has been substantially better with an extra day of rest throughout his major-league career.

In 66 career starts on normal rest, Nola has a 4.34 ERA and 1.27 WHIP.

In 73 career starts with at least one extra day of rest, he has a 2.72 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.

Nola prefers the National League style of play, which changed in 2020 as the designated hitter was made universal to reduce the risk of injury for pitchers. The DH is expected to be made universal as part of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (before 2022), but as of now, there will be no DH in the NL in 2021.

"I like the National League part of the game, I like the strategy," Nola said. "You have your pros and cons, but I feel like that's how it's always been. It's unique. It's something else we get to work on besides pitching to get our minds off of pitching sometimes. And batting practice is fun sometimes (chuckles)."

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