PHILADELPHIA -- Back in February, when the Phillies first assembled in Clearwater, Fla., everybody imagined days like this.
How could they not?
The Phillies’ stars showed up Monday night in an 8-3 victory over the Tigers at Citizens Bank Park. Trea Turner crushed a couple of home runs in his first four-hit game with the Phillies, perhaps signaling an end to a frustrating two-month slump. Aaron Nola carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning for the fourth time in his career, reminding everybody why he has been one of baseball’s best pitchers for years.
“It’s like, finally,” Turner said. “Just because I expected that out of myself.”
Turner came to the ballpark Monday batting .232 with a .642 OPS, which ranked 154th out of 162 qualified hitters in baseball. He had never started a season so slowly.
“I know I can do it,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting the job done. Keep putting in the work. I’ve been working like crazy, swinging too much, probably. But I know it’s in there. I know there are answers in there. So to come out and get some pitches to hit and not miss them, and hit them how I want to hit them is a good sign for me.”
Nola needed a sign, too. He came to the ballpark with a 4.70 ERA, allowing four or more runs in four of six starts in May. He had expressed his frustrations following his last couple of starts, which jumped out because Nola’s even-keel demeanor is as consistent as his curveball is good.
“I think it helps, sure,” Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. “Because I think [Nola] really believes that he’s not pitching the way he normally pitches. So, this should give him some confidence moving forward and keep him going.”
Turner’s solo homer in the third inning and two-run homer in the fifth handed Philadelphia a 5-0 lead. Turner had been talking for a couple of weeks about how he felt better at the plate. He had been chasing fewer pitches and striking out less. Still, since he hit a game-tying home run with two outs in the ninth inning on May 24 against Arizona, Turner had just six hits in 42 at-bats.
But Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long and the analytics team found a mechanical flaw in Turner’s swing a few days ago. Essentially, technology allowed them to find a difference in his swing -- specifically, Turner said, his back hip and knee -- “to a degree [how] things are positioned.”
He bought in.
“When I’m struggling, sure, I’ll try anything,” Turner said. “Kevin knows that. I’m not scared to try anything. I’ll go stand on my head up there. I don’t care what it looks like. It feels like the right adjustment. It’s something I thought [about] in the past but maybe overlooked because, in video, it looked similar. When you use technology, you can break it down a little bit.”
Nola, meanwhile, dominated Detroit for 6 2/3 innings with help from his fastball. His four-seam fastball averaged 93.4 mph, up 1.5 mph from his season average. He had not pitched with a better fastball since Oct. 3, when the Phillies clinched the third NL Wild Card with a 3-0 victory over the Astros at Minute Maid Park.
Nola had a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings that night, too. His fastball averaged 93.9 mph.
“I knew I had it,” Nola said about the no-hitter.
Nola issued a four-pitch walk to Zach McKinstry to start the seventh. Edmundo Sosa’s error put runners on first and second with no outs. Nola struck out Akil Baddoo and Sosa almost redeemed himself with a diving stop down the third-base line for the second out.
But then Nola threw a hanging 0-2 curveball to former teammate Nick Maton, who crushed a three-run homer into the second deck in right field for a three-run homer.
"That was kind of a dagger, right?” Nola said. “Especially because Maton hit it.”
Nola is going to hear about that one.
“For sure,” he said, laughing. “For the rest of my life.”
Even if Nola had not allowed the homer, he almost certainly would not have finished the game. He threw 108 pitches through seven innings. Thomson said he would not risk Nola’s health to pursue it.
The Phillies need Nola later this season.
Specifically, they need this version of him.