Phillies-Blue Jays 5 things: Aaron Nola vs. J.A. Happ


Phillies (30-36) vs. Blue Jays (37-31)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After allowing 18 runs the last two games, the Phillies wrap up their home-and-home series with the Blue Jays Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Let's take a look at the matchup:

1. Stop the bleeding
The Phils turn to Aaron Nola to end this run of six losses in seven games. Nola has been their best pitcher by far this season, but the last two times he's pitched during a Phillies skid he's taken a loss against the Nationals.

The Blue Jays obviously have a dangerous and potent lineup. Nola saw them last season in his sixth big-league start and lasted just five innings, allowing three runs on four hits and four walks. Josh Donaldson hit a 430-foot homer off of him in the first inning.

Nola was a different pitcher then. He wasn't utilizing his changeup as much and his curveball wasn't nearly as dominant a pitch. Nola has thrown 413 curveballs this season, third-most in the majors behind Oakland's Rich Hill (558) and Miami's Jose Fernandez (429). Nola's opponents are 20 for 117 against the curve for a .171 batting average. Of the 97 outs he's recorded on a curveball, 52 have been strikeouts. Only Fernandez (75) has more K's with his curve.

It will be interesting to see how Nola fares tonight against a team that seems to either put up several crooked numbers throughout a game or strike out repeatedly and finish the night with one or no runs.

In 13 starts this season, Nola is 5-5 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He's coming off the shortest outing of his career, 3⅔ innings in a loss to Washington.

2. Hey old friend
The Phillies tonight face left-hander J.A. Happ, who has quietly been one of the majors' most consistent starting pitchers since the middle of 2015. Over his last 24 starts dating back to last summer, Happ is 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA.

Happ (7-3, 3.70) has 10 quality starts in 13 tries this season. The only American League pitchers with more are Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright and Rangers right-hander Colby Lewis.

Happ's 3.70 ERA is skewed by two poor starts. He allowed eight runs in two innings to the Rays on May 16 and gave up six runs in five innings on June 6 in Detroit. His ERA was 2.05 before that Tampa Bay game.

Happ no longer has issues going deep into games. In his Phillies days earlier in his career, he was prone to wildness and his pitch counts soared. But that's a thing of the past — Happ walked 3.5 batters per nine innings as a Phillie but has walked just 2.6 the last three seasons.

Happ has faced the Phillies just three times in his career and not since 2014. In those starts he's 3-0 with a 1.56 ERA. The only Phillie with multiple hits against him is Jimmy Paredes (2 for 5).

Happ, now 33, throws mostly four-seam fastballs (35 percent), sinkers (31 percent) and cutters (16 percent). He also has a curveball and changeup. 

Happ's calling card is his ability to hide the ball. Happ is a tall left-hander who keeps the ball behind his back or head as long as he can. The difference in actual velocity vs. perceived velocity makes his 93 mph fastball look more like 95 or 96. Always has.

3. Franco returns
Third baseman Maikel Franco is back in the three-hole for the Phillies after missing three straight games with a mild right knee sprain. Andres Blanco started each game in place of Franco and went 2 for 11 with a double and an RBI.

Franco's return comes at a welcome time because the Phillies have been outscored 18-5 the last two days. He's homered three times in his last 10 starts and has 11 on the year, fifth among National League third basemen.

In 157 career games, Franco has hit .259/.312/.446 with 33 doubles, 25 home runs and 88 RBIs. Pretty impressive numbers for what is really his "first full season," even if it's been spread across three years. The only Phillies ever with more home runs in their first 157 games are Ryan Howard, Chuck Klein, Don Hurst and Willie Montanez.

4. The lineup
1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Jimmy Paredes, RF
7. Tyler Goeddel, LF
8. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
9. Aaron Nola, P

Goeddel hasn't played much since Cody Asche was activated from the DL and Paredes was claimed off waivers. This is just Goeddel's sixth start in the Phillies' last 14 games.

5. This and that
• Handle Donaldson with care — in his last eight games he's 13 for 31 with a .500 on-base percentage, three doubles, two triples, three homers, 13 RBIs, and 11 runs.

• Tommy Joseph is hitless in his last 17 at-bats.

• Hector Neris allowed four runs in his first 28 innings this season and nine in his last 6⅓. His ERA (3.15) is over 3.00 for the first time all year.

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