Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Aaron Nola Lives Up, Phils Offense Down, to Reputation

In the eagerly anticipated MLB debut by the Phillies top-ranked pitching prospect, Aaron Nola, the young man lived up to all expectations.
Unfortunately for him and the 28,000+ fans who showed up at Citizens Bank Park for "Nola Night", the team's offense lived down to 2015 expectations as well. The result was a 1-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays.
Nola (0-1) went six innings, allowing just five hits and walking just one batter. He struckout six, threw 59 strikes in his 88 pitches, and the vast majority of those pitches showed tremendous movement.
In the end, the 22-year old righty was bitten just once. Incredulously, it was by the opposition pitcher, Nate Karns
When he strode to the plate to lead off the top of the 3rd, Karns had a career .000 batting average in the big leagues. He was 0-5 with three strikeouts in eight plate appearances, the other three having resulted in sacrifices.
So of course Karns picked this spot to finally play the offensive hero. Nola threw what was actually not a bad pitch, a fastball moving down and in, on the first pitch to Karns. 
But the Rays' hurler was sitting fastball, put a good swing on the ball, and the pitch caught just enough of the plate to make it all add up to disaster. The ball soared out over the wall in left center for what would prove to be the game's lone run.
"It was pretty awesome to be out there to feel the energy from the fans...I had a little bit of jitters in the first inning. But once I threw a few pitches, they were gone." ~ Nola
In addition to his big moment at the plate, Karns (5-5) was excellent on the mound on another hot summer night in South Philly. He allowed just 3 hits and walked 2 batters in 5 innings, 54 of his 85 pitches going for strikes. 
Rays skipper Kevin Cash, who Tyler DiSalle profiled at TBOH prior to this series, then paraded out five relievers who all shut the Phils down, with AL All-Star Brad Boxberger registering his 24th Save to close it out.
The Phillies had a few chances in this one, but just couldn't come up with the clutch hit. 
They had two on and one out in the 2nd, but Karns struck out Cameron Rupp and Nola to get out of it. Freddy Galvis doubled with one out in the 3rd, moved to 3rd on a ground out, but was stranded there when Ryan Howard popped out.
In the 5th, Nola lined his first career base hit, a clean single to center field. But the inning ended when Odubel Herrera hit into a doubleplay on a grounder that he lazily didn't run out until it was too late. In the 6th, Cesar Hernandez was thrown out trying to steal 2nd to end the inning.
In the bottom of the 7th, the Phillies bats made what would prove to be their final bit of noise. They put two runners on base with two outs, and up to the plate strode recent hero Jeff Francoeur as a pinch-hitter. But there were no heroics on this night, as Frenchy struck out on a foul tip.
Nola was, at least for this night, just happy to be here finally: "It was pretty awesome to be out there to feel the energy from the fans. To pitch at this level is pretty amazing and a pretty good feeling tonight. I had a little bit of jitters in the first inning. But once I threw a few pitches, they were gone."
Hopefully he retains his youthful exuberance and obvious confidence throughout the rest of his rookie season, and doesn't get mentally worn down working with an offense that is not likely to help him very often. 
It's something that veteran Cole Hamels has had to deal with frequently: pitch well enough to win, and get nothing for your effort.
The Phillies offense is 29th of the 30 MLB teams, last in the National League, according to Fangraphs data
The club has now been shutout 11 times this season, and has scored 2 or fewer runs in 38 of their 96 games. It's not a recipe that will put many notches on the Wins side of the career ledger for any pitcher.
There was certainly positive to take from this game, however. Nola absolutely looked like he belonged, based on talent. 
He appeared as he stated, a bit wound up at first, but he settled into a nice groove as the game went along. 
It appears that he quite obviously will be an integral longterm piece. Add him to 3rd baseman Maikel Franco, who got the call back in May, and that makes two. 
A dozen more of these kinds of pieces, and the fans will really have something to cheer again on a regular basis.

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