PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies reached the midway point of their season Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, and it is fair to say the team with the worst record in baseball has had few encouraging performances.
But Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola has been working to change that. He allowed four hits and one walk in seven scoreless innings in Monday's 4-0 victory over the Pirates. He struck out eight, making it one of the best starts of his career. Nola, who the Phillies selected in the first round of the 2014 Draft, carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning until Jordy Mercer hit a two-out double just over a leaping Maikel Franco into left field.
"It's the same stuff," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of whether what he saw on film of Nola's most recent starts meshed with what he saw Monday. "He's pitching very well. Command, aggressiveness, early strikes, you have to swing. There's not a lot of waiting him out because it was strike one or it was two of the first three pitches were strikes. A lot of offensive counts for him, pitcher's counts. We were having to do a lot of reactive hitting."
Nola is 3-0 with a 1.27 ERA in his last three starts and 4-2 with a 2.68 ERA in his last six starts, which is a positive sign for an organization looking for pitchers to be part of its future rotation. Nola posted a 3.12 ERA in the first 25 starts of his career before struggling to the tune of a 7.48 ERA in 14 starts from June 11, 2016, through May 31 this season. That slump included a lengthy stint on the disabled list last season with an injured right elbow and a one-month turn on the DL this year with a strained lower back.
"If I can stay healthy, I can work on the things I need to work on," Nola said, "and try to repeat the things I need to repeat."
Freddy Galvis and Franco each hit two-run homers against Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova, who allowed seven hits, four runs, one walk and struck out one in six innings.
"A couple missed locations with the sinker got him in trouble with the home runs," Hurdle said of Nova. "He still went out there and kept us in the game. In this ballpark, four runs isn't an insurmountable lead."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Freddy's big day:Galvis had one heck of a Monday. First, his wife Ana gave birth in the morning to their second daughter, Nicole Montserrat Galvis (seven pounds, 19 inches). He then ripped a first-pitch fastball in the first inning for a two-run home run to right field, handing the Phillies a 2-0 lead. The ball traveled a projected 417 feet, equalling Galvis' longest home run since Statcast™'s 2015 debut.
"It's a pretty good day," Galvis said. "My second baby, and after we saw everything was good, I tried to get here and I tried to help the team."
Go and get it: Franco, hitting third for just the second time this season, ripped a line-drive, two-run homer to left field in the third. The ball left his bat at 110.1 mph and hit the metal rail on top of the wall and bounced about 20 rows deep into the stands. It was the hardest-hit homer of Franco's career.
"I'm trying," Franco joked, when told he should hit 110-mph homers more often.
"I think he's turned the corner. He's really pitching the way he's capable of. It's good to see." -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, on Nola's recent run of success.
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Nola has struck out eight or more batters in three consecutive starts, which no Phillies starter has accomplished since A.J. Burnett did it from Aug. 19-31, 2014.
Phillies rookie Nick Williams has played well in his first four games. After grounding out in his first two at-bats, he hit a ball to left-center field, but ran hard the entire way to turn a single into a double. Mackanin said before the game that he liked Williams' energy.
"I like the fact that he's happy to be here, he's smiling, he's playing with energy and he's swinging the bat aggressively," Mackanin said. "So far, I like what I see."
Pirates:Jameson Taillon (4-2) makes his fifth start for the Pirates since returning from testicular cancer surgery at 4:05 p.m. ET Tuesday in Philadelphia. His 2.97 ERA in 10 starts ranks 11th among 153 starting pitchers who have thrown at least 50 innings this season.
Phillies: Right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. (1-0, 4.20 ERA) pitches the second game of the four-game series Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park. It is Leiter's third start in place of injured right-hander Jerad Eickhoff, who could rejoin the rotation Sunday. Leiter has allowed four runs in 11 innings in his first two starts.
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