MIAMI -- There's no question All-Star Aaron Nola is one of the best pitchers in the league right now. On Saturday, however, the Marlins exposed the right-hander's Achilles' heel -- the first inning.Miami got to Nola before he could settle in, pushing across two runs on three hits in the
MIAMI -- There's no question All-Star Aaron Nola is one of the best pitchers in the league right now. On Saturday, however, the Marlins exposed the right-hander's Achilles' heel -- the first inning.
Miami got to Nola before he could settle in, pushing across two runs on three hits in the first frame, an inning in which Philadelphia's ace continues to struggle this season. With the early deficit and no run support throughout, the Phillies went down quietly at Marlins Park, 2-0.
"Obviously, in that first inning, there was a lot of extra work," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "Some balls found some holes and it turned out to be enough to beat us. But I still thought that he had a tremendous first half. Man, was he dependable, from the very beginning of the season all the way 'til today."
Nola labored through the first, throwing 31 pitches and issuing his only walk. From the get-go, Nola struggled hitting his spots and putting hitters away.
Derek Dietrich and Brian Anderson led off the ballgame with back-to-back singles. After walking J.T. Realmuto, Nola found himself with the bases loaded and nobody out. Starlin Castro drove the first run in on a fielder's choice up the middle, scoring Dietrich. Martin Prado drove in the second run, scorching a high fastball through the right side, scoring Anderson.
"They had a couple hits in the first inning, moved some guys over," Nola said. "That double-play ball that Castro hit wasn't hard enough. But after that, I feel like I settled in."
Saturday's two first-inning earned runs were Nola's 11th and 12th of the season in his 20th start. That pushes his first-inning ERA to 5.40. Nola's ERA is below 3.00 in every other inning this season.
When asked about Nola's first-inning woes, Kapler said he doesn't read into it too much and that it doesn't worry him moving forward. The culprit in Kapler's eyes has been nothing more than luck.
"I don't think there's anything to it. I think it's probably more chance," Kapler explained. "However, it's like you kind of have to search for something. You can't point to anything else that Nola has done that isn't fantastic so it feels like that's kind of a thing to point to. I don't make anything of it. Our confidence levels are obviously off the chart from the first pitch of the game with Nola, to the last pitch of the game.
Nola will certainly want to remedy his first-inning struggles soon as the first-place Phillies look to build upon their first-half success and get a postseason berth. Saturday was a good indication of a close game down the stretch -- every run counts and those two early runs proved to be the difference.
Other than the rough first, however, Nola settled down quite nicely. He finished with a very solid line of six innings, four hits and the two early runs. Nola struck out five and threw 95 pitches (64 strikes).
"Some balls found some holes, that's the best thing I can say," said Kapler.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
On multiple occasions, Philadelphia had opportunities to push runs across but the Phillies' bats simply couldn't cash in.
In the top of the ninth, against closer Kyle Barraclough, the Phillies put together their best scoring chance of the night. After two quick outs, Scott Kingery singled and pinch-hitter Andrew Knapp followed suit, putting the go-ahead run at the plate. With the game on the line, Kapler called on Jesmuel Valentin to pinch-hit.
Valentin worked the count to 3-0, took a called strike and then popped out to shortstop JT Riddle in foul territory to end the game.
As Nola punched out Justin Bour on a nasty curveball for his first out of the contest, the Phillies' right-hander reached 500 strikeouts on his career.
Reaching the 500 strikeout plateau in 480 total innings, Nola became the fastest Phillies pitcher to reach the half-century mark in franchise history.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
In the fifth inning, with Jorge Alfaro on third base and two men out, Rhys Hoskins did his best to catalyze a Phillies comeback.
Hoskins ambushed a first-pitch fastball from Marlins right-hander Trevor Richards, crushing a frozen rope to right-center field. Off the bat it appeared to be a sure double, perhaps even a home run.
Cameron Maybin had other ideas. Maybin ran it down, leaping at the warning track and crashing into the fence as he hauled it in to rob Hoskins of an extra-base hit and extinguish the Phillies threat.
"Rhys' ball to right-center field was absolutely smoked to the deepest part of the park," Kapler recalled. "Today we came up on the short end of the stick."
Hoskins' line drive left the bat at 102.4 mph, according to Statcast™, and traveled 398 feet with a launch angle of 25 degrees. It had a hit probability of 85 percent.
With right-hander Zach Eflin going on the disabled list, still nursing a blister on his right middle finger, Enyel De Los Santos will pitch in the rubber match and final game before the All-Star break, Sunday at 1:10 p.m. ET at Marlins Park. The 22-year-old has been tearing it up this season in Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where De Los Santos is 9-3 with a 1.89 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 16 starts. The Marlins counter with Jose Urena.
Max Goodman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Miami. Follow him on Twitter @Max_Goodman97.