PHILADELPHIA -- Aaron Nola turned in his sharpest start of the season Thursday, hitting his spots and helping the Phillies pick up a needed win.
It was perhaps the most promising sign yet that the 2014 first-round Draft pick could return to form.
"That looked like the old Nola that we saw," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "That was great to see. I was ecstatic."
Nola threw 7 1/3 commanding innings, allowing only one run on four hits and two walks while recording a season-high eight strikeouts in the Phillies' 5-1 win over the Cardinals. He posted seven scoreless innings before running into some trouble in the eighth.
"I know what I'm capable of, and I know what I can do," Nola said. "Today was me. I felt confident in all my pitches and was in command of all my pitches when I wanted to."
Nola pounded the strike zone all afternoon. The 24-year-old righty threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 28 batters he faced and delivered 74 of his 107 pitches for strikes.
"When you do that, you're going to have a lot of success," catcher Cameron Rupp said. "It was a lot of fun to be back there. I knew in the bullpen he was hitting both sides of the plate, and his breaking ball was good from the start. Sometimes it takes him a little bit to get going. When he has that from the third or fourth pitch of the game like he did today, good luck."
Nola got ahead in counts with his fastball, and his three swinging strikeouts all came with offspeed pitches. But even more Cardinals walked back to the dugout frustrated after watching Nola's two-seamer. Nola notched five strikeouts looking, all of which came from this two-seamer.
In the first seven innings, Nola had given up three singles and had not allowed a runner past second base. The only time he did in the game was when Paul DeJong clubbed a 2-2 curveball into the left-field seats for a homer to start the eighth. Nola struck out pinch-hitter Greg Garcia before walking Matt Carpenter to end his day.
"I think he got tired in that eighth inning, but it was great to see him rebound from the struggles he's been going through," Mackanin said.
As the Phillies' manager alluded to, Nola's past year has not gone as planned. His 2016 came to a halt by the end of July due to an elbow injury, and he spent a month on the disabled list in 2017 with a lower back strain.
Nola posted a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 Major League starts. But entering Thursday, he had a 6.30 ERA in his past 18 outings as the injury caught up to him in 2016 and he struggled to find his footing this year.
Thursday, however, marked the third time in seven starts that Nola has gone at least seven innings while allowing just one run. The Phillies are hoping the "old Aaron Nola" is here to stay.
"That was the Aaron Nola we all have come to know and love," Mackanin said. "He was outstanding."