BRADENTON, Fla. -- The moment Zack Wheeler entered Phillies camp behind schedule, it seemed obvious that Aaron Nola would make his fifth consecutive Opening Day start.
Phillies manager Joe Girardi confirmed that thinking following Thursday’s Grapefruit League game against the Pirates at LECOM Park. Nola pitched three innings before rain halted the game after five innings and a 3-3 tie. He struck out three and allowed two solo home runs. Nola will make two more starts in Florida before facing the A’s on April 8 at Citizens Bank Park.
“It's looking like it's how it's going to line up, yeah,” Girardi said. “That’s what’s going to happen.”
Wheeler is scheduled to throw live batting practice on Saturday. Ranger Suárez, who is also behind schedule, is planning to throw live BP on Sunday. Girardi said he still expects both pitchers to pitch the first week of the season. But Nola will be the first Phillies pitcher to make five consecutive starts on Opening Day since Steve Carlton made 10 in a row from 1977-86.
He hopes it is the beginning of a nice bounceback from a rough 2021.
Nola went 9-9 with a 4.63 ERA in 32 starts last season. It was the fifth-highest ERA among qualifying pitchers. But he also had a 3.37 xERA, a 3.37 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and a 3.47 DRA- (Deserved Runs Average, per Baseball Prospectus). xERA is Statcast’s ERA estimator. It is based on quality of contact, plus walks and strikeouts.
Each statistic tells a different, but similar story: Nola pitched better than his ERA.
Nola’s focus entering the season is making fewer mistakes with two strikes. He allowed a National League-leading 82 two-strike hits last season. Ten of those 82 two-strike hits were 0-2 home runs.
Nola made a couple mistakes on Thursday with fastballs that were hit for home runs. He has allowed four homers in two starts this spring. But he’s not worried, and neither is Girardi.
“I think I felt better today,” Nola said. “I wasn’t missing too many balls over the plate. Those two fastballs, one two-seam leaked back over, and one four-seam just didn’t get in there deep enough. But I felt good. I felt like I was getting strike one, strike two pretty quick, pretty early, getting ahead of guys. I felt good.”