Aaron Nola

Nola's gem powers Phillies to win, sweep Cardinals

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Rob Thomson and Kyle Schwarber shared their thoughts on Aaron Nola’s dominant outing against the Cardinals.

Aaron Nola’s third pitch of the game was a fastball that dotted the happy zone, and Cardinals leadoff hitter Tommy Edman didn’t miss it. The ball got to the rightfield corner in a hurry, with a 105 mile an hour exit velocity. And let’s be honest. Edman had barely arrived at second base before a small here-we-go-again pang of dread swept through the seats at Citizens Bank Park.

Nola has been the Phillies most enigmatic starter this season. At times he’s retired hitters with the regularity of a metronome, looking every bit the ace-type starter he’s expected to be. On occasion he’s seemed a little lost, discombobulated, possibly distracted by the pitch clock or runners on base or mechanical issues or his looming free agency.

 Turns out, the crowd of 41,141 wasn’t alone in being concerned.

By the time Nola returned to the dugout after the top of the seventh to accept hearty congratulations from staff and teammates, he had faced 22 more batters. Only one reached base, second baseman Nolan Gorman, on a walk in the fifth. Only one, Edman in the sixth, hit the ball hard when he lined out to first. Only two managed to get the ball out of the infield.

“After Edman hit that double, I felt like I really had to get in the zone. I feel like those were three uncompetitive pitches,” Nola said. “I really wanted to focus on getting ahead in the count. And I think I did. I think that was the turning point of the game.”

The Phillies completed a sweep of St. Louis Sunday, 3-0, and of course Nola became the headline. Not just because his last two starts have been his best back-to-back assignments of the season: 14 innings pitched, eight hits, 2 earned runs, 2 walks, 14 strikeouts.

Because those numbers offer a sweet whisper of promise that he might be might be getting himself together at just the right time to help his team make another deep run in the postseason.

While he’s not likely to maintain this level of efficiency for the rest of the season, however long that may be, Rob Thomson clearly wants to believe that he’ll at least be able to pitch consistently at a higher level than he has for most of the year.

“Nola was fantastic,” the manager said. “His curveball was probably the best he’s had all year. He was locating his fastball. Mixed in some changeups. Kept them off balance.”

Asked specifically what gives him confidence that Nola has turned some sort of corner, he said: “I think he’s in the zone a little bit more. He’s getting ahead and then he can expand the zone and get some soft outs. This was really encouraging.”

Nola was asked a version of the same question. “My body feels really good. I feel really good physically and mentally,” he said. “Hopefully I can keep it going. Have a good work week and stay healthy.”

A cynic might point out that the Cardinals are a last-place team that has lost nine of its last 11. And that his previous start, 2 runs in 7 innings against the Giants, also came at the expense of a team in the midst of a deep slump.

Having said that, the Phillies have been playing pretty good baseball for awhile now. Some of the numbers:

14 – Games above .500, a season high.

7 – Games below .500 on June 2.

.644 – Winning percentage since June 2 (47-26).

3 – National League teams (Braves, Dodgers, Brewers) with a better full season winning percentage (.554). And they trail Milwaukee by just one game.

Thomson was particularly pleased that his pitchers walked only three batters while striking out 34 in the weekend series while exhibiting solid fundamentals. He was heartened that Saturday night starter Zack Wheeler has lasted seven innings in each of his last three starters with a 2.587 ERA.

“We’re playing playoff-type baseball right now,” he said. If the postseason opened tomorrow, he added, Wheeler and Nola would start the first two games.


While there are no givens at the Major League level, the next three games against the Angels provide at least an opportunity to keep the bandwagon going. Mike Trout is back on the injured list. Shohei Ohtani has a torn UCL in his elbow and won’t pitch anymore this season, although his .305 average and 44 homers remain in the lineup. The Halos have dropped 17 of their last 24.  The matchups:

Angels RHP Lucas Giolito (7-10, 4.32) vs. RHP Taijuan Walker (13-5, 4.02) Monday at 6:40 p.m.

LHP Tyler Anderson (5-5, 5.35) vs. RHP Michael Lorenzen (7-8, 3.69) Tuesday at 6:40 p.m.

LHP Reid Detmers (3-10, 5.03) vs. LHP Cristopher Sanchez (2-3, 3.33) Wednesday at 1:05 p.m.

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