Not 'rocket science': Nola gets opener nod

March 23rd, 2021

There wasn’t much suspense when it came to who would take the ball for the Phillies in their season opener, but manager Joe Girardi made it official on Monday, naming as the club’s Opening Day starter.

“I think Aaron probably knew it anyway, just the way everything lines up,” said Girardi, who informed Nola of the honor hours before his scheduled start on Monday against the Yankees. “It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out when you start getting in your rotation how it lines up.”

This will be Nola’s fourth consecutive Opening Day assignment, the longest streak by a Philadelphia pitcher since Hall of Famer Steve Carlton started 10 straight openers from 1977-86. The Phillies are slated to open at home against the Braves on April 1, marking Nola’s third Opening Day start against Atlanta in four years.

“That's pretty cool, man,” Nola said. “Steve Carlton's the man; I never thought that I'd be up on that list with him. It's a big honor, obviously. I’m looking forward to it -- against the Braves again.”

After learning that he would start the opener, Nola went out and posted his best start of the spring, leading the Phillies to a 4-0 win over the Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. Facing a lineup stacked with New York’s regulars, Nola breezed through six scoreless innings, giving up one hit and no walks, striking out nine.

“That's as good as I've seen him,” Girardi said. “He was dominant; he had command on both sides of the plate with his fastball, his breaking ball was outstanding, he threw changeups that were really good. He was in total control all night.”

“The command of all my pitches was on tonight,” said Nola, who had been tagged with a 10.38 ERA over his first three starts.

Girardi also announced that Zack Wheeler will start the Phillies’ second game of the season against Atlanta.

Heating up?
went 3-for-3 with a walk on Monday, doubling his spring hit total to bring his average up to .240 following his 3-for-22 (.136) start. Hoskins is scheduled to play three of the next four days, giving the first baseman a chance to find a groove at the plate in the final week before Opening Day.

“I think every player wants to feel like they're hot coming out of Spring Training,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you can be hot coming out of Spring Training and you don't hit the first week of the season, and vice versa; you can be cold as heck [and hit well]. I don't ever make too much of it, but from a physical standpoint, I think he's really good.”

Extra bases
• Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson combined for a scoreless inning Monday night, and the two veteran relievers will throw again Tuesday, giving the Phillies a look at how they handle back-to-back outings. Both pitchers can opt out of their Minor League deals on Wednesday if they’re not added to the roster, so this could be the club’s final chance to evaluate them.

• After being scratched from the lineup Sunday with what Girardi called “general soreness,” J.T. Realmuto “had a great day” Monday, the manager said. Girardi said he would see how Realmuto feels Tuesday before making out the lineup, leaving the possibility open that the catcher will make his spring debut.

• Zach Eflin and Spencer Howard, who have both been sidelined by back issues, are scheduled to pitch in a simulated game on Wednesday.

• Brad Miller (oblique) isn’t ready to get into a game yet, but Girardi said the infielder took some dry swings Monday and is “making progress” in his effort to be ready for the opener. “That’s something that we’re going to have to look at, how many at-bats and how comfortable he is in his at-bats,” Girardi said. “Rib cages are tricky, so you have to see how feel how he feels at the plate.”

• Vince Velasquez (oblique) threw a 25-pitch bullpen session on Monday. Girardi said the righty “felt really good and looked really good.”

• Outfielder Adam Haseley (groin) could be back in a game in the next couple days, Girardi said.