How Phillies' Aaron Nola is delivering historic run


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PHILADELPHIA – Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure has enjoyed one of the best seats in the ballpark the last seven weeks.

Situated in the dugout next to the on-deck circle, McClure has seen right-hander Aaron Nola turn into one of the best pitchers in baseball. Nola’s shown flashes of it over his three seasons with the Phillies.

But now he’s on the best run of his career. That’s how good Nola has been. And the scary part: He turned 24 only two months ago.

It’s impossible to quantify his potential and how much better he could become.

“You can’t,” McClure said. “To watch kids like [Nola] is really cool.”

Nola’s the first Phillies pitcher since the current mound distance was established in 1893 to throw six or more innings and allow two runs or less in 10 consecutive starts. He is the lone MLB starter to accomplish the feat this season. Only four pitchers did so last season: Cubs’ Jon Lester (11 starts), and the Tigers’ Michael Fulmer, Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the Cubs’ Kyle Hendricks (all 10).

In those last 10 starts dating to June 22, Nola’s 1.71 ERA during that span is the best among all qualified Major League Baseball starting pitchers.

“When you can look at things and know what needs to be done, what you did right and what you need to work on — he’s very honest with himself,” McClure said. “I think that’s the fastest road to success. And he is very, very good at it.”

This stretch has made last year’s disastrous final two months (9.82 ERA in eight starts) before his season-ending injury forgettable, appearing to be an anomaly in his young career. 

Nola’s recent run has been rooted keeping the ball down in the zone at hitters’ knees, getting ahead in the count, retiring the first batter of the inning and staying away from the middle of the plate. His ability to make adjustments within games and from start to start has impressed McClure.

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All of that sounds simple and easy to do.

But take it from McClure, who spent 19 years in Major League Baseball and appeared in 698 games. It’s not.

“People don’t realize how hard this is,” McClure said. “You don’t understand. You really don’t. … Unless you’ve been in that arena and have done it, it’s hard to figure out how you do it. 

“I don’t even know sometimes. You’re just able to do it,” he continued. “What makes it work is usually the guy’s makeup. How fast they see things with insight and vision and how fast they can make adjustments. … [Nola] sees things the right way.”

The development of his changeup this year has been a gamechanger for Nola, too. He’s recorded 44 strikeouts on the pitch, trailing only his curveball (90). It’s become a reliable pitch and with his often pinpoint fastball command, it can be a devastating combination. That’s on top of owning one of the best curveballs in the game. 

“It was just like one day, bam, he started throwing it,” McClure said of his changeup.

Added Mackanin: “It’s a night and day difference. It gives him somewhere else to go.”

After allowing only one run with eight strikeouts in seven innings Saturday against the Mets, Nola owns a 3.02 ERA and a career-high 119 ⅓ innings pitched in 19 starts this season. 

“I’m really not trying to do too much, trying to simplify, get ahead and execute all my pitches,” Nola said.

Nola’s ERA+ of 136 is tied for seventh best in the NL. Cole Hamels in 2014 was the last Phillies starter to produce an ERA+ as good as Nola’s. ERA+ normalizes a pitcher’s ERA, taking into account external factors such as ballparks and opponents. ERA+ league average is 100.

The consistency Nola has delivered the last two months has been a welcomed development for a pitching staff that has featured some growing pains with its young arms. Going into next season with this version of Nola would be a relief for the Phillies as they work to determine who they can rely on going forward.

It’s too soon to determine whether Nola will turn into one of the few true aces in baseball. But his starts are now must-watch games. 

Contact Meghan Montemurro at mmontemurro@delawareonline.com. Follow her on Twitter at @M_Montemurro.



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