Nola sinks Braves for 1st win since Opening Day

Veteran righty throws most sinkers since 2016 en route to 10-K outing

May 27th, 2022

ATLANTA -- It must feel pretty good to be pitching so well that a hitter snaps his bat in frustration at the plate.

It must feel even better when it comes near the end of a big win.

The Phillies beat the Braves, 4-1, on Thursday night at Truist Park. They split the four-game series, which was a nice recovery following Tuesday’s gut-wrenching walk-off loss. Aaron Nola led the way. He dominated the Braves over 8 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and one run. He struck out 10, including William Contreras to start the seventh.

Nola threw Contreras a beautiful 2-2 sinker just below the outer edge of the plate. Contreras flailed and missed it. He slammed his bat into the ground, snapping it at the handle.

“It’s a good feeling, yeah,” Nola said. “I feel he was taking a lot, especially that at-bat. [So] 2-2, I just wanted that pitch to be down. Luckily, he swung over it.”

Contreras pulled the bat apart and carried the severed lumber back to the dugout, the handle in one hand and the barrel in the other.

“That one dropped off the table,” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “It was a perfect pitch. That kind of encapsulates his whole outing.”

Nola finally caught a break on Thursday. He has pitched well this season, but he had little to show for it. He was 1-4 with a 3.96 ERA in his first nine starts. The Phillies were 1-8 in them, despite Nola allowing three or fewer runs in six starts and leaving with a lead or the game tied in five.

“It’s baseball, it’s going to happen,” Nola said. “I just want to go deep in the game and save the bullpen and put up as many zeros as I can. That’s my goal every outing.”

Nola found himself at 101 pitches through eight scoreless innings. He struck out Austin Riley to start the ninth, then allowed a double to Matt Olson. Phillies manager Joe Girardi told Nola before the ninth that he would have a short leash because he did not want his pitch count to get too high.

Nola, who was at 109 pitches following Olson's double, was finished.

Corey Knebel allowed Olson to score on a wild pitch, but the closer got the final two outs.

"I’ve always been a big fan of Aaron Nola, just watching him from afar,” Braves right-hander Kyle Wright said. “We kind of have some similarities. What made him so tough was he was just constantly in the strike zone with four or five pitches. He was really impressive tonight."

"You know facing Nola, if he’s on, he’s rough,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said.

Nola had plenty of things working for him, but two stood out: his curveball, which was expected, and his sinker, which was a nice development. Nola has one of the best curveballs in baseball. He got nine swings and misses with it and struck out five using it. But Nola also threw his sinker 38% of the time, the most he's used it in a game since the 2016 season. It is a pitch that worked well in past seasons, although he threw fewer last year because he said he lacked a feel for it.

He is feeling it this year. Opponents were batting just .180 against it entering the game.

“The sinker felt good today, better than usual,” Nola said. “J.T. called a good game back there. We were on the same page the whole game. It was working. I was spotting it up for the most part. It was down in the zone, which was the goal. It feels pretty consistent right now. If it’s feeling good, I’m going to throw it. I’m not a huge sinker guy, but if I can get a little depth to that pitch, it’s good. I can get some ground balls with it.”

It helped the Phillies split a series in a place that has been a nightmare for them. The Phillies are 11-24 at Truist Park since the beginning of the 2018 season. This was the first time they won or split a series here since September 2019.

“We needed it,” Girardi said.

It could have even been better, of course. They could have won Tuesday.

“It feels like a small victory, obviously, after what happened the last couple days,” Realmuto said. “Being able to come out with a split is big for us. Hopefully, we can carry that momentum into New York against a team we haven’t played well against this year. Hopefully, we can go win that series this weekend [against the Mets].”