Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola has been so good and so dominant lately that it is easy to forget that he can struggle.
Nola struggled mightily in Friday night’s 11-2 loss to the Braves at Truist Park in Atlanta. He allowed four runs on six hits (two homers) and three walks while striking out three in just 2 2/3 innings. It was the shortest start of his career. Nola pitched three innings five previous times in his 132-start career over six seasons, the last time coming May 13, 2019, against Milwaukee.
“Pretty bad all around all night,” Nola said. “I didn’t get out of the third inning, which obviously stinks. I don’t think that’s ever happened. But I learn from it tonight and get back to work tomorrow. I didn’t feel horrible. I didn’t feel bad. I was just missing a little bit with my fastball and I was getting behind.”
The loss extended the Phillies’ losing streak to four games and dropped them to 9-13.
“Any pitcher that has the talent and the consistency of Aaron Nola, when they don’t have it, you’re shocked,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “It just happens. It happens to the greatest pitchers of all time. Sometimes they don’t have their command or they don’t have their stuff that day. He just really struggled tonight for whatever reason. I would expect that he would bounce back the next time.”
Friday’s loss hurt because the Phillies have been leaning on Nola and right-hander Zack Wheeler, who will start Saturday night. The rest of the Phillies’ rotation has not been pitching deep into games lately, which has put additional pressure on a struggling bullpen. But Girardi saw no other choice than to pull Nola after throwing 71 pitches, including 34 in the third inning.
Nola allowed a two-run home run to Travis d’Arnaud and another homer to Marcell Ozuna in back-to-back plate appearances to make it 3-1. Adam Duvall followed with a single, and two batters later, Johan Camargo doubled to make it 4-1.
“He just didn’t have it,” Girardi said. “He was over 30 pitches in that inning, and that’s a danger zone once you’re in that for me. It was just time to get him out.”
But the Phillies received some encouraging news Friday. First, they acquired closer Brandon Workman and right-hander Heath Hembree from Boston, as well as right-hander David Hale from the Yankees.
“Those guys have been around a little while,” Nola said about Workman and Hembree. “We’ve seen what they’ve done with Boston over the past few years. We’re glad to have those guys on the team now. As starters, we still want to go as long as we can to set those guys up in better situations. Obviously, it’s tough on any bullpen like tonight when I can’t even go three innings.”
Second, rookie left-hander JoJo Romero struck out the side in the eighth inning in his big league debut. He is the organization’s No. 15 prospect and is the team’s No. 2 left-hander in the bullpen with José Álvarez on the 10-day injured list.
Romero’s fastball averaged 94.1 mph and touched 95.7 mph.
“It doesn’t get much better than that,” Girardi said. “What was impressive to me was how he attacked the zone and had command down in the zone and was able to expand with his slider. I talked about him in Spring Training, too. He might have thrown the most impressive live BP that I saw. He looked sharp tonight. That was really encouraging. He’s got weapons and he can be an uncomfortable at-bat for a lot of different people.”