PHILADELPHIA -- Every five days it seems Aaron Nola is punishing the best, most experienced hitters in baseball. Aces do that.Nola struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven innings Tuesday night in a 4-2 victory over the Giants at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed just five hits and one
PHILADELPHIA -- Every five days it seems Aaron Nola is punishing the best, most experienced hitters in baseball. Aces do that.
Nola struck out a career-high 12 batters in seven innings Tuesday night in a 4-2 victory over the Giants at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed just five hits and one run. But, really, Nola pitched much better than his line indicated, as Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro and Carlos Santana hit solo home runs to keep the Phillies within a half-game of first place in the National League East.
"They were feeling pretty good coming out of my hand," Nola said about his fastball, curveball and changeup.
No kidding. Nola got a career-high 26 swings and misses on 109 pitches. It ranks third among Phillies starters since pitch tracking began in 2008. Vince Velasquez had 27 in his 16-strikeout shutout against the Padres on April 14, 2016. Cole Hamels had 27 in his no-hitter against the Cubs on July 25, 2015.
Nola's 26 are the second most in baseball this season. Mariners right-hander James Paxton, who threw a no-hitter Tuesday, had 31 in a 16-strikeout effort in seven scoreless innings last Wednesday against the A's.
"When you're throwing out names like McCutchen and Posey and Belt and Longoria, you know you're in for it," Phils manager Gabe Kapler said about the Giants' lineup. "These are All-Stars and borderline Hall of Famers that they're running out there. So, yeah, this is a tremendous lineup over there, and it's pretty impressive to see Noles get some of those swings."
Somebody afterward asked Nola if Tuesday might have been the best start of his career.
"I don't know," he said. "I mean, I don't really look at it that way. I mean, this one is done now."
But the way Nola's changeup has emerged as a dominant pitch, it is not a stretch to say these types of starts could become routine, much like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels churned out strong starts every five days for years.
Nola threw his changeup 25 times to the Giants. They swung and missed the pitch 10 times. He got 11 swings and misses on the changeup last week against the Marlins. Nola never got more than seven in any previous starts in his career.
"In the past several games, I feel like it's the best it's been in my career, especially since I've been up here," Nola said. "As a starter, I think it's crucial to have three pitches, and a lot of guys do. I think the changeup is one of the better pitches a starter can have."
Nola always has been known as a pitcher with excellent command of his fastball and a nasty sweeping curveball.
Now hitters have to worry about a changeup, too.
"He was throwing a couple of different fastballs, commanded the changeup pretty well and dropped in breaking balls," Giants catcher Buster Posey said. "Yeah, he was pretty good tonight."
"He makes it easy," Alfaro said. "We're not afraid to call any pitch because we know he's going to execute it. It's been like that the whole time."
And there is no reason to think it will not continue.
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Tommy Hunter recorded the third out in the eighth inning, then struck out left-handed-hitting Brandon Belt to start the ninth. Kapler removed Hunter for right-hander Hector Neris, who blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning Sunday against the Nationals. Kapler got booed, but Neris struck out Evan Longoria swinging and Brandon Crawford looking on splitters to end the game.
"This was really like the Hunter-Belt matchup," Kapler said about starting the ninth with Hunter.
So it had nothing to do with Neris' blown save Sunday?
"I'd say one thing had absolutely nothing to do with the other," Kapler said. "Nothing at all."
Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera singled to center field in the third inning to score Cesar Hernandez and hand the Phils a 3-1 lead. It extended Herrera's on-base streak to 37 games.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Santana hit two balls hard for outs in his first two plate appearances before he launched a solo home run to right field in the sixth inning. The homer left his bat at 106.8 mph and travelled a projected 384 feet, according to Statcast™. It also had a 38-degree launch angle, making it the highest Phillies' homer of the season.
Santana hit .153 with two homers, 11 RBIs and a .571 OPS through the end of April. He has seven extra-base hits and a 1.014 OPS in seven games this month.
HE SAID IT
"Sometimes I'm not going to be perfect. Sometimes I'll have a bad day, I'll make a mistake with one pitch or whatever. Today I came in positive. I came in aggressive to help the team, and I attacked the hitters with my pitches." -- Neris, on rebounding from Sunday's blown save
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The Phils lost just their second challenge in 12 opportunities this season, when they challenged a pickoff play in the top of the fifth inning. They thought Nola picked off Gregor Blanco, with Santana's glove grazing Blanco's right arm as he dove to first base. But replay proved inconclusive and the call stood.
In the end, it did not matter. Nola picked off Blanco later to end the inning.
Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (1-2, 4.76 ERA) hopes to bounce back from the worst start of his career in Wednesday night's 7:05 p.m. ET game against the Giants at Citizens Bank Park. Pivetta lasted just 11 batters in Friday's loss to the Nationals. He had a 2.79 ERA in his previous five starts, striking out 31 and walking five in 29 innings. Chris Stratton (3-2, 3.99 ERA) will start for San Francisco.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast.