PHILADELPHIA -- By the end of the first inning on Saturday, Aaron Nola had racked up as many strikeouts as he had in his entire previous outing.
Nola struck out the side -- all looking -- in the opening frame en route to matching a career high with 12 strikeouts in a 2-1 win against the Rockies at Citizens Bank Park. He also whiffed 12 batters on May 8, 2018, against the Giants.
It was a welcome turnaround for Nola, who had only three strikeouts over just three innings on Monday against the Brewers. Yet on Saturday, the Phillies' ace looked far more like the pitcher who finished third in last year's NL Cy Young Award voting than the one who began the day with a 4.86 ERA.
“It definitely felt [warmer] today than it did five days ago," Nola said. "It's just baseball -- anything happens. That was the first time I’ve ever thrown 80-some pitches in three innings. I’ve never done that before, but it happens.
"Things can change really quick. You’ve always got to trust what you’re doing and keep working hard through the ups and downs, and that is kind of what I’ve been doing.”
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler credited that consistent dedication between outings for Nola's bounce-back effort.
"He doesn’t cry in his soup," Kapler said. "He’s not thinking about the last outing that he had. He’s already on to the next one. The reason that we saw him come out like lightning today is because of the work that he did between starts. It’s that simple."
Nola dominated with his fastball early, using it to finish off Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story and David Dahl in order (all looking) in the first inning. He then leaned heavily on his curveball the rest of the way, recording eight of his final nine strikeouts with the breaking ball. That included two strikeouts apiece in the second, third and fourth innings -- all with the curve.
The right-hander threw 30 of his 41 curveballs for strikes, including a season-high 10 on swings and misses. Overall, Nola induced 15 swinging strikes Saturday, three more than in any of his previous nine starts this season.
"He was sharp, he was electric," Kapler said. "He was running his fastball back over the plate off of either side, his curveball was sharp from the outset. When his curveball is good, you see lots of swings and misses, you see empty swings, and that’s what was happening today for him."
Phillies fans were treated to another refreshing sight in the bottom of the first inning, when Bryce Harper clobbered a home run over the batter's eye and onto Ashburn Alley beyond the center-field wall. It traveled a projected 466 feet, according to Statcast, making it the Phillies' longest home run at Citizens Bank Park since Statcast began tracking in 2015.
"It looked like it went out of the stadium from where I was sitting," Nola said. "That was a long one."
Philadelphia's only other run came when Jean Segura sprinted home on a wild pitch in the third inning.
Nola maintained the lead, cruising through six scoreless innings before finally running into trouble in the seventh. He allowed a leadoff triple to Tony Wolters, and Ryan McMahon followed with an RBI double to knock Nola out of the game. He allowed just the one run off eight hits and one walk, to go along with his dozen strikeouts in six-plus innings.
"That's what I remember when I was with the Nats, facing that," Harper said. "It's getting hot out there, he's from Baton Rouge, [La.], so he likes pitching in hot weather, warm weather. ... Anything he was throwing out there today was working. It was just Noles being Noles.”