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April 24, 2017

How the Phillies could handle rotation with Aaron Nola (back) placed on DL

After Aaron Nola was sidelined for the season’s final two months in 2016 with a right elbow strain, an injury that never required surgery, many jaded Phillies fans wondered how long it would be until the former first-round pick landed on the disabled list in 2017.

Now we have the answer, although there’s a catch: Nola’s current ailment isn’t related to his elbow woes.

Three weeks into the ’17 season, Nola was placed on the 10-day DL on Monday with a lower back strain. The move is retroactive to April 21, meaning Nola could come off the DL as soon as a week from today, May 1.

“Aaron experienced soreness in his lower back during his start on Thursday,” general manager Matt Klentak said in a press release. “After receiving treatment over the last few days, the symptoms improved, but he still felt some tightness during his side session yesterday. Our hope and expectation is that this will not be a lengthy DL placement and that Aaron will miss only one or two starts.”

Nola’s next turn in the rotation was due to come up on Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park against the Miami Marlins. With Monday’s day off, the Phillies could choose to keep their pitchers on five day’s rest and have Jeremy Hellickson start on Wednesday, rather than Thursday, but, regardless, they’ll need a fifth starter in their current rotation by Saturday.

That starter could be Mark Leiter Jr., who was added to the 25-roster a week ago but has yet to pitch in a game. Leiter was in the bullpen in the last week and had made his only two appearances with Triple-A Lehigh Valley as a reliever this year, but he was worked as a starter for the majority of his professional career.

Rising right-handed pitching prospect Nick Pivetta is perhaps the more likely option, though, especially since he could just jump into Nola’s place in the Phillies rotation on Wednesday. Pivetta last pitched on April 20 (the same day as Nola’s most recent start), holding Columbus to one earned run while striking out a career-high 11 batters in six innings.

The 24-year-old Pivetta, acquired two summers ago from Washington in the Jonathan Papelbon trade, is 3-0 with a 0.95 ERA, 0.737 WHIP in three starts with the IronPigs; he’s struck out 24 and walked only two in 19 innings.

Klentak was asked about Pivetta’s progress over the weekend.

“Very crisp breaking ball, location has been really good,” Klentak said. “He’s growing up as a pitcher. He’s been pretty outstanding so far through three starts. We’re pretty pleased with that.”

At least for Tuesday, the Phillies aren’t likely to add a pitcher to the roster in place of Nola. The team acquired veteran utility man Ty Kelly on Saturday and he is expected to be added to the 25-man roster prior to Tuesday’s game against the Marlins.

Nola, 23, is 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA in three starts this season. He allowed four runs on seven hits and four walks (while striking out two) in five innings of an eventual 6-4 win over the Mets at Citi Field on Thursday. It was just the second time in his career that he had more walks that strikeouts in a game.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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