Pitching depth protects Aaron Nola’s Rough Friday Night

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Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola throws during the fourth inning of the team’s baseball game against the Atlanta Braves, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

Aaron Nola had a rough night on the mound Friday night. More specifically, a rough inning. Unsure whether it was the change in weather, or the extra days rest, but fans of the Phillies are not used to seeing an inning like that from their starters this season.

Still, Nola limited the damage against him enough to keep things close through his four innings. The Phillies bullpen held strong and the offense did enough against San Francisco starter Jordan Hicks as Philadelphia was victorious, beating the Giants 4-3 in their series opener.

Nola’s Second Inning

After throwing just nine pitches in the opening frame, Nola’s second inning is one that will live infamously in his pitching history. In that inning alone he saw eight Giants hitters, allowed a 2-RBI double to Thairo Estrada, walked four, and escaped by the skin of his teeth with the bases still loaded after 46 pitches. Those walks were the only four free passes he would allow on the night, preventing himself from setting even more history in a negative sense.

The four batters walked in one inning ties the most he has walked in an entire game since his first start of the season against the Braves. In fact, he has only walked more hitters in an outing twice, once in 2019 and once in 2020.

Since the start of the 2020 season, Aaron has walked four or more batters just four times, including tonight, with two of those occurring this season. He has walked 4+ hitters in a game 16 times now in his long career, and oddly enough the Phillies are 9-7 in those games.

46 pitches is also the most Nola has ever thrown in one inning. He never tossed 40+ before tonight. It’s the most pitches he has recorded in a single frame since through 38 in an inning back in 2019. He has now tallied 35+ pitches in an inning for the eighth time in his career. Philadelphia now has a 2-6 record in outings with such an inning from Nola.

The last time Nola went 4.0 innings or less in an outing was Opening Day 2023 against the eventual World Series Champion Texas Rangers. Normally a starter who goes deep into games, his 89 pitches is the least he has thrown in an outing since his first start of the year.

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Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola tips his hat after being relieved during the sixth inning of Game 3 of a baseball NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Positive Signs

Aaron Nola is a guy who can give his team 100+ pitches on any given night, especially if it means saving the bullpen. He prides himself on that. Nola has started to settle in after the second, allowing two base runners in the third but inducing a double play, and needing just 14 pitches to get through what would be his final inning. However, the starting staff – Nola included – has been so strong to start this season, manager Rob Thomson had a well rested and well prepared bullpen he could turn to.

Instead of forcing Nola to go back out for another inning, he turned things over to his pen.

Thomson has mentioned recently that it is tough to find his pen some time to work. Each Phillies reliever only logged one inning tonight, allowing five pitchers to get work tonight and they held it down for the victory. Matt Strahm struck out two and Seranthony Domínguez struck out one and allowed no traffic.

Orion Kerkering looked like he might have a rough night as well, starting the seventh off by allowing three consecutive singles. The defense was able to help him out by turning two, limiting the damage to just one run scored in the inning.

Philadelphia then called on Jeff Hoffman and he struck out the side on just 15 pitches. It’s the third time he has done so this season, more than he had all of last year. José Alvarado came in to secure the save and the win on 12 pitches (10 strikes), striking out one.

The Phillies have deep, mostly healthy pitching right now – something a lot of teams would beg for. They were able to use that to their advantage tonight, knowing they have flexibility with Spencer Turnbull and they have Ranger Suárez going tomorrow night. Having “too much” pitching is never truly a problem, and the Phillies proved tonight that they have it in spades.

Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)