Nola's tough night 'frustrating, for sure'

Coming off shutout, Phillies righty allows career-high 8 ER in loss to D-backs

August 31st, 2022

PHOENIX -- Aaron Nola tossed the third shutout and fifth complete game of his career last week in a victory over Cincinnati. It was the latest in a string of strong performances from the Phillies right-hander.

But that run ended Tuesday night in a 12-3 loss to the D-backs at Chase Field. Nola set a career high with eight earned runs allowed in four innings, while South Jersey’s Zac Gallen tossed seven scoreless innings against Philadelphia and extended his scoreless streak to 34 1/3 innings over five starts.

“Frustrating, for sure,” Nola said.

The Phillies have lost three straight games. They are only a half-game ahead of the Padres for the second National League Wild Card spot. They hold a three-game lead over the Brewers, who are chasing both teams for a Wild Card berth.

“You hate to lose any game, but it’s just one game,” Philadelphia interim manager Rob Thomson said.

The Phillies opened the series in Arizona on Monday by building a 7-0 lead through three innings. They ended up losing, 13-7.

The D-backs had scored 22 unanswered runs until Brandon Marsh hit a three-run homer to right field in the eighth on Tuesday. It was the first time the Phils have allowed 12 or more runs in consecutive games since June 8-9, 2018, against Milwaukee. The time before that? Aug. 10-11, 2015, in Arizona.

It wasn’t supposed to go this way. The Phillies showed up Tuesday expecting to turn Monday’s collapse into a one-and-done memory. Nola had a 2.42 ERA in his previous seven starts. He had a 2.12 ERA over his past five. He capped that run with last Thursday's shutout against the Reds.

Nola had been pitching so well this season that he entered Tuesday with 4.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs. It tied for the lead among NL pitchers with Miami’s Sandy Alcantara and San Francisco’s Carlos Rodón.

But Nola allowed five runs in the second inning to hand Arizona a 5-0 lead. He allowed three runs in the fourth, when Jake McCarthy crushed a three-run homer to right. It was the third time in Nola’s career he allowed eight runs in a start. The previous two times came in back-to-back outings on June 16 and June 21, 2016, against the Blue Jays and Twins.

Thomson couldn’t help but wonder a couple of things as everything unfolded. Maybe Nola’s nine-inning gem last week sapped him a bit.

“What scares me sometimes are guys throwing complete games and coming back on regular rest,” Thomson said. “Nine innings can wear you out. He’s not going to admit to that. But it worries me.”

Maybe Nola was tipping his pitches. McCarthy crushed a first-pitch curveball for a two-run triple in the second before he crushed a first-pitch fastball for a homer in the fourth.

“We always look at it,” Thomson said. “We’ll check it out. We’ll see. It always crosses my mind. It really does when guys are on pitches.”

“I’ll have to go back and look,” Nola said. “The curveball [to McCarthy] kind of hung up there a little bit. I think he might have just guessed right on the fastball.”

Nola will make his next start sometime next week against the Marlins. He has pitched 170 2/3 innings this season, which is second in MLB behind Alcantara (185 2/3). Last week, the Phillies started Cristopher Sánchez to give the other starters in the rotation an extra day of rest.

It might have helped Nola.

Maybe a little more rest before Nola's next start could help him again. He has struggled throughout his career in September and October, posting a 4.60 ERA across the months. The Phillies need him sharp down the stretch. So it could be good timing that he gets six days before he pitches again. It could even be seven if Zack Wheeler is activated from the 15-day injured list and rejoins the rotation on Tuesday.

“Stick with my routine, and lucky for us, we get some off-days,” Nola said. “I think it’ll help everybody. But as much as I can get on the mound, the better, especially after this one.”