Once again, Aaron Nola fell behind right from the jump. This time, though, he found a way to fight back.
After a career-low pitch count in a disastrous start on Sunday, Nola earned a quality start in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Fla. It wasn't pretty as he battled command issues early, scattering nine hits and a walk over 6 2/3 innings, but he kept Toronto off the scoreboard from the third inning onward.
The crux of Nola’s concerns was a lack of feel for his curveball, which he said has been an issue for the past few starts -- most notably his previous outing, in which he allowed five earned runs in four innings (on 58 pitches) against the Braves.
On Saturday, Nola was stung for four hits, a walk and three runs in the first two innings. That could’ve been the beginning of another spiraling start for the right-hander, but it wasn’t.
“The past couple games I was frustrated a little bit,” he said. “I didn’t have my command early in the game. I felt like I kind of got that as the game went on.”
From the third inning into the seventh, when he departed, Nola did his part to keep the Phillies within striking distance. He never had a truly clean inning, but he didn’t allow any runners to score.
Without much feel for his curveball, which he only threw 12 times, Nola leaned heavily on a different off-speed offering: his changeup. He threw it 40 times (39 percent of his pitches, well above its 21.8-percent rate this season) and produced 13 whiffs on 23 swings. Nola’s changeup was his out pitch on six of his eight strikeouts.
“I thought he battled his tail-end off because he didn’t have his curveball tonight,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “His stuff, he did not have his A-stuff, but he found a way to keep us in that game and unfortunately we weren’t able to score.”
The Phillies’ offense fell flat against a quintet of Blue Jays pitchers, garnering just six hits and not pushing a runner past first base until the seventh inning.
Rhys Hoskins reached safely in all four plate appearances with a single, double, walk and a hit by pitch. The rest of the offense combined to go 4-for-31 with three walks and 14 strikeouts.
More importantly, the team’s top two offensive weapons -- Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto -- were removed from the game and are considered day-to-day. For a team that has scored runs in just two of its past 27 innings, the timing of that news was hard to digest.
The positive takeaway from Saturday is Nola, who was still very competitive even when some things weren’t going his way.
He’s still working to find confidence in his entire repertoire of pitches, and he’s embracing that challenge.
“We go into next week, flush this one, go into this coming week and try to get all my pitches where they need to be,” Nola said. “And hope that next outing they will be. These nights are obviously a little tougher; you’ve gotta battle a little more, and compete. But that’s the beauty of it.”