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August 17, 2016

Nola's season officially over after Phillies put righty on 60-day DL

Aaron Nola was eligible to come off the disabled list three days ago. But anyone that was realistic knew that was never a viable scenario.

More than likely, when Nola was placed on the 15-day disabled list back on August 3 with an elbow strain, he was on his way to being shut down for the rest of the 2016 season. 

That became a reality on Wednesday, when general manager Matt Klentak announced that the 23-year-old right-hander was being shifted to the 60-day DL two days after consulting with famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews.

 Klentak announced that Nola will be sidelined indefinitely with a low-grade UCL sprain and a low-grade flexor strain in his right arm. The good news -- if you're a glass-half-full type of person -- is that, at least for now, it appears Nola will not require surgery, just rest. Nola had a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection on Monday when he saw Dr. Andrews. 

"At this time, nobody is talking about surgery," said Klentak after Nola was consulted by three different doctors. "He's going to be shut down for another four weeks just to let the PRP do its thing and (then) we're going to ramp him back up at that point to see how he responds, to see how he feels and to hopefully put him in a position to go into his offseason feeling healthy, feeling comfortable and be ready to go for spring training."

Nola has maintained a positive disposition throughout his first DL stint, originally optimistic that he'd be able to return before the Phillies season concludes in six weeks. Although that's no longer on the table, the second-year pitcher is confident he'll be 100 percent healthy when it comes time to report to Clearwater, Fla., in six months.

"I'm pretty confident right now that everything is going to heal correctly," he said. "I can’t know exactly what it’s going to be like in a few weeks or a few months, or spring training from here. But I expect it to be good to go and all healthy. My arm should be healthy by then."

Nola, the Phillies first-round pick (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft, arrived to the big leagues in July of 2015 after much anticipation from a fan base eager to see a tangible piece of the organization's rebuilding program. The former LSU pitcher dominated at every level in the minor leagues in a 12-month period and that success carried over almost as soon as he joined a Phillies pitching staff that was about to part ways with its most senior staff member, Cole Hamels

Nola dazzled in his major league debut 13 months ago against Tampa Bay and, a day after Hamels' no-hitter, collected his first big league win at Wrigley Field over the Chicago Cubs. The success continued into 2016.

Nola was a bonafide All-Star candidate two months into his first full season. And after his first 25 major league starts, from his MLB debut last July to his first start in June this season, Nola's numbers were legit: 11-6 with a 3.12 ERA and a 4.5 K-BB ratio (153 strikeouts and 34 walks in 155 2/3 innings).

It was that dominance that made what followed so jarring, and the disparity so great that it was beginning to become difficult to simply chalk it off as the struggles of a young, second year pitching working his way through the league a second time. Beginning with an 8-0 loss at Washington on June 11, when he exited before completing four innings (he had gone six innings or more in 11 of his first 12 starts), Nola began to spiral downward.

In eight starts between June 11 and July 28, Nola pitched more than five innings just once. He allowed five or more earned runs in five of those eight games. He had more earned runs (36) in that period than innings pitched (33), which translated to a 9.82 ERA.

During that 6 1/2 week period, which included an extended break for Nola over the All-Star break, in an effort to both monitor his workload and get him right mentally, Nola's ERA jumped more than two runs, to 2.65 to 4.78.

But when he landed on the disabled list five days after his most recent start, Nola said he didn't feel any discomfort in his arm until that game in Atlanta, on July 28. He informed the team before they left Turned Field that weekend.

On Tuesday, Nola once again insisted that his current elbow injury and his struggles from June through July were not related.

"Before the last game, everything felt good," he said. "My arm felt good. I don’t think this had to do with any of the previous starts before then. Just overall my body felt really good leading up to that. It was just something that happened."

And now the season-ending surgery is just something he has to deal with. He'll rest. And he'll wait.

And the best case scenario is Nola will get on a mound in Clearwater at some time in late September or October, weeks after restarting his throwing program, to see how his elbow has responded. Until then, the pitcher and Phillies management will remain hopeful the current problems do not carry over into 2017.

If Nola's elbow doesn't respond well in the next two months, the Phillies will have to reconsider other alternatives to getting their former first-round pick and rotation building block back for the long term.

"Right now nobody is suggesting that surgery is the way to go on this and we feel good about the fact that there's a consensus among all the doctors that have seen him," Klentak said.

The Phillies replaced Nola on the 40-man roster with right-hander Frank Herrmann, who was added to the Phillies active roster, replacing left-hander Elvis Araujo in the bullpen.

Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford – the team's first-round pick in 2013, a year before Nola – remains sidelined at Triple-A Lehigh Valley with an oblique injury.

The 21-year-old Crawford, a consensus top five prospect in all of baseball, is hitting .258 with a .348 on-base percentage in 70 games with the IronPigs, following an early-season promotion from Double-A Reading. It's unlikely that Crawford takes over at shortstop in Philadelphia until 2017, as he doesn't have to be added to the 40-man roster this winter.

Klentak referred to Crawford's current healthy status as "day-to-day."

"He made sort of an acrobatic play at shortstop about a week ago and tweaked his oblique," Klentak said. "He’s been playing catch. He’s been hitting off a tee. He’s been doing a lot of work on the side. We’re just trying to be a little careful with him and make sure he doesn’t re-aggravate it. I expect he’ll be back out playing live games in the next few days.”

In positive Phillies injury news, both Jeremy Hellickson and Adam Morgan are scheduled to make their starts against the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend. Morgan (who took a comebacker off his left arm) will start on Friday opposite Adam Wainwright while Hellickson (who hasn't pitched since August 10 due to back pain) will start Saturday against left-hander Luke Weaver.

Hellickson threw a bullpen session on Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. 

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