January 17, 2017
READING, Pa. – Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola declared himself “100 percent” and ready to roll into spring training next month on schedule with the rest of pitchers and catchers before the Reading Figtins’ annual winter banquet on Tuesday night.
The 23-year-old Nola missed the final two months of the 2016 season with a right elbow strain and his status heading into the offseason was a little unclear since he was still early in the rehab process. But after throwing throughout October pain-free and then again after Christmas, Nola sounded more than a little confident his elbow woes are a thing of the past.
“One hundred percent,” Nola said. “My arm is all good. … All through rehab, I had no pain. Probably in the middle of rehab I started feeling really good. Towards the end, I started upping the intensity a little bit.
“I knew after I took two months off I was going to be good. I started back up, throwing after Christmas, and I didn’t have any hesitation on really getting on balls and stretching it out a little bit.”
Pitchers and catchers are required to report to Clearwater, Fla., on Feb. 13 but Nola, who has been working out at LSU’s facilities in his hometown of Baton Rouge, La., plans on getting into Florida a few weeks early.
“I feel on track right now,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to do my regular thing at spring training when I get down there. … I’ll be ready before or right when pitchers and catchers go.”
Following an impressive showing as a rookie in the second half of 2015, Nola saw his first full big league season get off to a positive start when he went 5-4 with a 2.65 ERA in the season’s first two months. During that 12-start stretch, Nola compiled 85 strikeouts and just 15 walks in 78 innings and had a .580 opponents OPS.
But his numbers in his final eight starts were as startling bad as the first dozen were startling good: Nola went 1-5 with a 9.82 ERA between June 11 and July 28, striking out 36 while walking 14 in 33 innings and watching opponents slash .367/.435/.531 against him.
It wasn’t until the final start of that stretch, however, on July 28 at Turner Field in Atlanta, that Nola felt discomfort in his throwing elbow. He insisted on Tuesday night the same thing he said last summer: his struggles weren’t related to his elbow.
“I mean I didn’t have any pain leading up to that point that night,” Nola said. “I don’t put it on that bad stint that I had. I had a bad stint. You know, people have that. I don’t think it affected any of that because I felt good, I didn’t have any pain in my arm or in my body up to that point.”
Nola threw off the mound twice at the end of his rehab throwing program in Clearwater in late October. He’ll up the ante on his current throwing program and get on a mound at home “in the next couple of weeks.”
Nola, the Phils’ first-round pick (seventh overall) in 2014, still has some hurdles to clear, namely facing hitters. He hasn’t pitched in a game situation since that July night in Atlanta.
“I feel on track right now. I feel like I’m going to do my regular thing at spring training when I get down there. … I’ll be ready before or right when pitchers and catchers go.”
But with exactly four weeks until pitchers and catchers hold their first workout of the spring, Nola was eager to get going and put the end of 2016 in his rearview mirror.
“My command and accuracy feel really good right now,” he said. “I’m pretty confident in my ability to get back on track.”
Even if Nola's own worries have subsided, manager Pete Mackanin is at least cautiously optimistic, with an emphasis on the caution.
"There's a part of me concerned," Mackanin said Tuesday night. "When guys don't have surgery and they mend with just rest, that makes me a little nervous. I don't want that to crop up again because then you lose a couple years instead of one year. I defer to the medical people and believe in what they say and how he feels."
As long as everyone stays healthy, Nola is likely to be in the middle of a rotation that includes Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, and veterans Jeremy Hellickson and Clay Buchholz to begin the 2017 regular season.
"I like to hear that because I know how good he can be," Mackanin said of Nola's confidence. "If you've got a Hellickson and if Buchholz gives consistent enough outings and Eickhoff, I feel every confident he can give consistent outings, and if Nola does it and Vinny does it, we have a pretty darn good rotation, especially with the inventory we have behind those guys."