PHILADELPHIA Aaron Nola's rookie season is winding down.
But regardless of whether it ends after two or three more starts, it will have more than comfortably reaffirmed the notion that he will be a mainstay in the Phillies' rotation for years to come.
Nola pitched seven scoreless innings Tuesday night in a 5-0 victory against the Atlanta Braves, lowering the 22-year-old right-hander's ERA to 3.56 through 10 major league starts. Last year's seventh overall draft pick has allowed an impressive 1.14 walks plus hits per inning pitched through 602/3 big league frames.
"Nola was outstanding," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said after Tuesday's game, which snapped his team's five-game losing streak, its worst of the season's second half.
"His ability to locate his fastball down in the strike zone on both sides of the plate is his strong suit. To mix in his secondary pitches when he has to or when he wants to is a real good sign for the future. He's a special guy."
Efficiently working ahead in counts while mixing his fastball with his curveball and change-up, Nola needed only 85 pitches to record his 21 outs. The catch is that his innings count reached 170 for the season between his time in double A, triple A and the majors. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying the team does not want him logging much more than 180 or 185 innings in his first full professional season.
At most, Nola could make three more starts before season's end. This start was his last before the team transitions to a six-man rotation on Wednesday with the return of David Buchanan. The extra day of rest between outings will prolong Nola's season, if only by a matter of days.
"I don't even know where he's at 1/8in terms of his innings total3/8. When they tell me he's done, he's done," Mackanin said. "I'm not going to conserve innings on him 1/8within a start3/8 and only allow him to pitch five or six innings if he can go into the seventh or the eighth with a good pitch count just to hold back his pitch count.
"If he throws two nine-inning shutouts his next two times out, and that's his innings total, that's what's going to happen."
On the heels of the shortest and worst outing of his young big-league tenure, Nola snapped a string of poor performances from the Phillies' young rotation. After he exited, Odubel Herrera gave closer Ken Giles plenty of insurance with a three-run home run. It was the rookie center fielder's eighth homer of the season.
The fourth-place Braves were the second team to see Nola twice the Padres were the other but were able to muster only six singles against him. Nola, pitching in front of an announced crowd of 15,610, recorded a career-high seven strikeouts. Several helped him escape potential trouble.
Consecutive punch-outs of opposing starter Ryan Weber and Nick Markakis, whom he struck out twice in the game, helped Nola work out of the third inning after allowing the first two batters to reach base. He struck out Nick Swisher with runners on first and second and one out in the sixth, an inning he capped with a nifty backhanded snag on a Jace Peterson comebacker.
Although he is not accustomed to pitching this late in a season, Nola said his arm and body feel "really good." Innings counts aren't on his mind.
"Every time I go out I just try to go as long as I can," he said. "I feel like the recovery has been really good for me, and every time I take the mound on that fifth day I've been feeling really good."
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