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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Phillies Notebook: Nola developing into ace

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 17

Aaron Nola is scheduled to pitch Thursday’s series opener against the Giants, which means the Phillies have a pretty good chance of winning the game.

Nola has made 10 straight starts without pitching fewer than six innings or allowing more than two runs. No other Phillies pitcher since 1893 has accomplished that feat. During this 10-game stretch, Nola has 78 strikeouts and just 18 walks.

July 20, the Phillies have won only one game against a team other than the Braves – the Phillies Since could probably beat the Braves with pitching coach Bob McClure on the mound – with a pitcher other than Nola starting. That victory was a 6-3 decision over the Brewers on July 23, with Jerad Eickhoff earning the win. Nola picked up the only win in the following series against the Astros, sparking a five-game winning streak that included a four-game sweep of the Braves.

The Phillies’ five-game winning streak was followed by a five-game losing streak. Nola lost the first game of that streak, 7-1 against the Angels, even though he only allowed two runs. Nola ended the losing streak on August 6 with a 3-2 win over the Rockies. That was followed by two wins over, of course, the Braves. The Phillies only win during the week since the wins over the Braves was last Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Mets, with Nola notching the win. Sandwiched around Nola’s win over the Mets were three losses at home to the Mets and three road losses to the Padres.

How dependent have the Phillies become on Nola? His nine wins are more than twice as many as any other starter on the roster (Jeremy Hellickson was 6-5 before being traded). Keep in mind that Nola spent time on the disabled list in April and May with a back strain. He is the only pitcher on the roster with a winning record (relievers Pat Neshek and Jeanmar Gomez were both 3-2 before being traded and released, respectively).

It’s not quite as dramatic as Steve Carlton’s 27-10 record for the horrendous 1972 Phillies, who won just 59 games, but Nola’s 9-7 record for a team with the worst record in the major leagues is extremely impressive. Opponents are batting just .228 against Nola, and his 3.02 ERA is dropping with every start.

Unlike Carlton, who won the first of his four Cy Young awards by unanimous vote in 1972, Nola is unlikely to win any league-wide awards. In just his third major-league season, though, Nola has established himself as the Phillies’ ace, and he may be serving notice that major awards could be coming his way in the future.

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LOST SEASON: At the opposite end of the pitching spectrum from Aaron Nola is Vince Velasquez. Nola has answered the questions about him before the season. Velasquez has only added to the questions about his future.

Velasquez was placed on the disabled list last Thursday after exiting a 10-0 loss to the Mets after allowing three runs in a 32-pitch first inning. Velasquez is 2-7 with a 5.13 ERA, leaving his future as a starter in question. The Phillies should consider trying Velasquez in the bullpen when he returns from his finger injury.

If they’re not willing to put Velasquez in the bullpen, they should try to trade him during the offseason. Does he deserve yet another chance to be an effective starter for the Phillies next spring?

*****

HOSKINS HOMERS: After going hitless in his first 12 major-league at-bats, Rhys Hoskins registered his first hit and RBI during Sunday’s loss to the Mets. He has three hits since that game, and all of them have been home runs. He hit two home runs during Monday’s 7-4 loss to the Padres, and then hit another one Tuesday during an 8-4 loss to the Padres. To summarize, three of Hoskins’ four hits have been home runs.

Hoskins’ power is as good as advertised. Now, he just has to raise that .160 batting average.

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FEELS LIKE THE FIRST TIME: Rhys Hoskins wasn’t the only Phillie to hit his first major-league home run against the Padres. Catcher Jorge Alfaro also homered Tuesday during the Phillies’ 8-4 defeat. Alfaro is batting .375 after four games. The bigger question with Alfaro is his defense.

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MISTAKEN IDENTITY: Was that Clayton Richard or Clayton Kershaw the Phillies faced on Wednesday? The Phillies managed just three hits and didn’t get a runner past second base, but it was Richard, not Kershaw, who shut them down. Richard, who entered the game allowing the most hits in the majors, pitched a complete game to win for the first time since June 13 and register his first shutout since Aug. 8, 2012.

*****

RUNNING ON EMPTY: Some writers are willing to look the other way as Odubel Herrera, whose 17-game hitting streak was put on hold this week by a sore left hamstring, commits mistake after mistake after mistake. The latest major gaffe came Sunday during a 6-2 loss to the Mets.

The Phillies had the bases loaded with nobody out in the fifth inning. They were trailing 4-1 at the time, so this was an opportunity to get back into the game. Nick Williams hit a fly ball to center field. Freddy Galvis faked tagging up from third base and then went back to the bag. You could argue that Galvis should have tried to score, but it’s certainly understandable that Galvis (and third-base coach Juan Samuel) wouldn’t want to run into a double play, preferring to keep the bases loaded with one out.

The problem is that Herrera tagged up from second base and headed for third, apparently never looking up to see Samuel or Galvis. It was one of the worst baserunning gaffes I’ve ever seen.

Keep in mind that Herrera was picked off on consecutive nights in June, including being picked off third base against the Cardinals. He also makes mistakes that don’t get as much notice, such as going back to third base on an infield grounder before taking off for home and getting thrown out. (In that situation, the runner must either go on contact or stay at third base.)

Some have dismissed these mistakes as “Odubel being Odubel,” saying that the good outweighs the bad. But Herrera’s failure to correct this type of sloppy, undisciplined and dumb play can have a ripple effect on a team. If one of the team’s best players plays in that fashion, it can set the tone for everyone else.

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STRIKE FORCE: Nick Pivetta struck out eight of the first nine batters he faced Wednesday, finishing with a career-high 11 strikeouts in five innings during a 3-0 loss to the Padres. His reward? Pivetta was sent to the Class AAA Lehigh Valley after the game. The move might just be temporary, though. With Odubel Herrera sidelined by a hamstring injury, the Phillies need a position player. Expect Pivetta to be recalled before Tuesday, his next scheduled start.

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DEJA VU: The Phillies placed Daniel Nava on the disabled list – again. This time the veteran outfielder has a back strain. Nava’s previous stints on the disabled list were for hamstring injuries.

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LOOKAHEAD: The Phillies finish up this week’s West Coast trip with four games against the Giants. After a day off Monday, the Phillies return to Citizens Bank Park for a 10-game homestand. They start with a single-admission doubleheader Tuesday (4 p.m.) against the Marlins, which includes a makeup of a game postponed on April 25. They face the Marlins again on Wednesday and Thursday before hosting the Cubs for a weekend series. The homestand ends with three games against the Braves, who have only beaten the Phillies twice this season.

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