CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola is focused on the big picture this spring. He wants to “fill up the strike zone,” which means getting ahead in the count and staying ahead in the count. He wants to keep the ball down in the strike zone. He wants to throw his
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola is focused on the big picture this spring. He wants to “fill up the strike zone,” which means getting ahead in the count and staying ahead in the count. He wants to keep the ball down in the strike zone. He wants to throw his fastball for more strikes. He wants to reestablish his changeup.
Nola seems particularly interested this spring in that changeup.
“My changeup wasn’t as consistent as it was in previous years,” he said after pitching two scoreless innings Sunday in a 4-3 victory over the Pirates at Spectrum Field. “I am just trying to get back to throwing that for strikes down more.
“I didn’t throw my changeup in even counts for strikes as much as I did, like 1-1 counts for changeups were going to 2-1 counts and 1-0 counts were going to 2-0 counts. I think that was a separator.”
Nola threw his changeup 18.6 percent of the time last season, according to Statcast. Opponents batted just .204 with a .345 slugging percentage and .270 Weight On-base Average against it. But Nola believes it can be better. If he throws the pitch for more strikes, maybe it can be.
Consider his changeup’s in-zone percentage over his career:
2015: 41.1 percent
2016: 40.3 percent
2017: 47.6 percent
2018: 42.9 percent
2019: 30.6 percent
He suffered a 12.3 percentage point drop from 2018 to '19. Nola specifically mentioned the problems he had throwing the pitch for strikes in 1-0 and 1-1 counts. Here are his in-zone stats in those counts:
2015: 44.7 percent
2016: 48.1 percent
2017: 52.8 percent
2018: 49.7 percent
2019: 32.1 percent
“I think when I’m throwing everything for strikes, I have three pitches and that’s my main focus every single year,” Nola said. “Last year, I wasn’t as consistent in the zone. You have those years. Every year is not going to be really good, and every year is not going to be really bad. That’s the beauty of the game. It’s the most inconsistent game. There is always work that needs to be done.”
How’s the changeup felt so far in 2020?
“It has felt really good,” Nola said. “It has felt like it should be.”
Phillies manager Joe Girardi has not named his Opening Day starter, but Nola is likely to be the guy.
The Big Piece returns
Ryan Howard is in camp for a few days as a first-time guest instructor. Girardi specifically requested the Phillies ask Howard to participate.
Girardi and Howard have a history. Girardi asked Howard to autograph a baseball for his son in 2006, when he managed the Marlins and Howard hit 58 home runs on his way to being named the National League Most Valuable Player Award winner. Howard hit .481 (26-for-54) with nine home runs, 21 RBIs and a 1.741 OPS in 18 games against the Marlins that season. They walked him 26 times, intentionally 11 times.
Girardi recalls sending a ball to the Phillies’ clubhouse before the second game of the final series of the season. Howard wrote, “I will sign the ball if you stop walking me,” and sent it back to Girardi.
Girardi replied, “I will stop walking you if you stop hitting home runs.”
Howard eventually sent a ball with his signature.
Howard said he will not be broadcasting games with ESPN this season, although he enjoyed the experience. As far as getting back into uniform on a more full-time basis, Howard has three little girls at home and plans to spend more time with his family.
When will Bryce play?
Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper is scheduled to make his Grapefruit League debut Tuesday against the Blue Jays at Spectrum Field.
Quinn impresses in center
In the top of the fifth inning, center fielder Roman Quinn made a pair of nice catches, one a diving grab in the right-center-field gap and the second a nice leaping play on the warning track. He also doubled and scored in the first inning.
“Two different types of catches in the same inning and probably the reason that we won the game,” Girardi said. “He had a good day.”
The Phillies said Adam Haseley is expected to play most of the innings in center this season, but Quinn could make a push for playing time if he stays healthy.
The Phillies play the Orioles on Monday afternoon at Spectrum Field at 1:05 p.m. ET, live on MLB.TV. Right-hander Vince Velasquez is set to make his spring debut. He is competing with Nick Pivetta, Ranger Suarez and others to be the team’s No. 5 starter. Pivetta pitched on Saturday against the Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., while Suarez will pitch on Tuesday against the Pirates in Bradenton, Fla.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .