This Phillie continues to be one of MLB's top workhorses

May 29th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Todd Zolecki’s Phillies Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

No pitcher has thrown more innings since the start of the 2022 season than -- and it’s not particularly close.

Including the postseason, Nola has logged 518 1/3 innings over the past three seasons. The next-closest pitcher is Arizona's Zac Gallen, who has thrown 485 1/3 innings.

Now, that may not come as a huge surprise given Philadelphia’s run to the World Series in 2022 and coming up one game short of returning in ‘23 -- but that’s far from the only reason. Nola made 32 starts each season from 2021-23. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, he made 12 starts. He started a Major League-leading 34 games in '19 and 33 games in '18.

Needless to say, Nola’s 186 starts since 2018 are the most in the Majors. But he’s not just atop the innings leaderboard because he’s making every start. He’s making every start and pitching deep.

Of the 91 pitchers to make at least 100 starts since 2018, Nola is one of just nine to average at least six innings per start. Seven of the other eight have spent time on the injured list this season: Sandy Alcantara, Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Shane Bieber, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer and Framber Valdez. The first four -- Alcantara, deGrom, Verlander and Bieber -- have undergone Tommy John surgery during that stretch.

The only one unaccounted for? Nola’s teammate, .

“It's nice to have guys who are not only good enough to do it, but make it a priority to go deep and think that way every night,” said Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham. “That's their job, and they take so much pride in doing that.”

Of course, when you look at all the injuries above, it’s hard to ignore. And while Wheeler has avoided arm trouble over the past two seasons, he did spend time on the IL in 2019 with right shoulder fatigue and again in ‘22 with right forearm tendinitis.

So, is the workload a concern?

“Sure, yeah. It's always on my mind,” said manager Rob Thomson. “We've got to keep those two guys healthy.”

Nola is off and running again this season. He entered Wednesday ranked fifth in the NL with 71 innings pitched this season.

Yet, while each of the other eight pitchers mentioned above have spent time on the injured list with arm issues over the past few seasons, Nola hasn’t landed on the IL (for non-COVID reasons) since 2017, when he had a lower back strain.

Despite all the extra innings he's thrown over the past few seasons, Nola actually started his ramp-up program a bit earlier this offseason than he has in the past. That may seem counterintuitive, but the idea is to spread that prep work out over a longer period of time, allowing for a lower intensity as opposed to giving the body extra rest and then cramming the preseason program into a shorter period.

“It's crucial for starting pitchers to want to go deep into games,” Nola said recently. “That's the biggest thing is the want -- and all of our guys want to do that.”

So far, so good.

The Phillies’ rotation entered Tuesday with a 2.73 ERA and 336 innings pitched. Both marks led the Majors.

“This is the best rotation I've ever been a part of,” Nola said recently. “It's pretty awesome.”

Along with checking in with all their pitchers every day, the Phillies -- like any other team -- are constantly monitoring everything. That includes checking spin rates and velocity to confirm the ball is coming out right, analyzing their pitchers' mechanics, getting feedback from the strength and conditioning staff, and staying on top of routine treatment.

The Phils are hoping that all those innings being handled by the starters now will pay dividends later.

“It's absolutely massive,” Cotham said. “You've got to be really good, and you've got to be consistent to even do what they're doing -- and they're doing both at a high level. That's one of those things that's lost in how good things have been this year, is they're saving an arm or two per night from pitching.

“There are guys down in the bullpen who are very capable of taking those innings down -- they're very good -- but then there's a cumulative cost moving forward.”

Added Nola: “Being in the postseason the last couple years, we know how important our bullpen is. We need those guys fresh and throwing hard like they do -- we've got a lot of good arms down there. So the more the starting pitchers can keep those guys fresh right now, the more we can rack up innings, the better off we'll be.”