More Sports:

May 21, 2017

In return from DL, Phillies' Aaron Nola has his best start in over a year

The Phillies have been miserable lately – they've lost 17 of 21 – but they were hoping to finish their nine-game road trip on a positive note Sunday in Pittsburgh. After splitting the first two games with the Pirates, Pete Mackanin and his struggling club looked to avoid their seventh straight sweep, their longest such streak since 2006.

They would try to do so behind Aaron Nola, who was making his first start in a month (April 20) after a back injury forced him to go on the disabled list.

And while Nola and the Phillies (15-26) ultimately fell to the Pirates, 1-0, the performance they got from their young starter provided a silver lining that makes the shutout loss somewhat more palatable. 

Right out of the gate, the 23-year-old looked sharp. 

In the first inning, he retired the Pirates in order on just 12 pitches. And in each of the next four innings, Nola faced no more than four batters. Through the first five innings, Nola allowed just three baserunners (two singles and a walk) while striking out four.

But it was more than that. 

Nola was firing on all cylinders – hitting his spots, mixing his pitches, and even showing some increased velocity. And by the end of the day, despite picking up the loss, Nola's line was quite impressive: 

Here's more from Corey Seidman of

His velocity, which was up in April before he went on the DL with a lower back strain, reached as high as 95.5 mph and averaged 92.3. While velocity readings have been a bit up league-wide this season, Nola's fastball has indeed had some more noticeable oomph. 

He's thrown 13 pitches this season at 94 mph or faster. He had only two last season.

Nola was efficient all afternoon. He needed just 89 pitches over his seven innings and threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of 27 batters.  []

The combination of added velocity and getting ahead in counts is what led to some Pirates hitters looking like this: 

In the sixth inning, however, Nola ran into some trouble.

Back-to-back singles from Adam Frazier and Josh Harrison – and a steal of second by the latter – left Nola facing second and third with no outs and Andrew McCutchen at the plate. After getting him to groundout, the Phillies opted to walk Josh Bell, load the bases and go after David Freese instead. 

Whether or not that was the right move, we'll never know. 

Nola hit Freese to bring in the only run of the game. The very next pitch, John Jaso, grounded into a huge inning-ending double play.

And with his pitch count still relatively low, Mackanin decided to bring Nola back out for the seventh inning. It would be his third 1-2-3 inning of the day. It would also be his last, as Tommy Joseph hit for Nola with one out in the top of the eighth inning.

Still, it's been a while since the Phillies had a starter throw more than six innings. And it's been quite a bit longer than that for Nola.

Add to that the fact that this was Nola's first game back from the DL – although it was impossible to know that from watching him – and it's safe to say that despite the loss, Sunday was a net-positive for the Phillies.

Now, the young righty will have to prove that games like this are again the norm. 

Matt Gelb of The Philadelphia Inquirer with more:

The Phillies have readjusted their expectations for Nola after he floundered last June and spent a majority of the summer on the disabled list with an elbow injury. He can generate hope again with more starts like Sunday’s…

He resembled the Nola who charmed Phillies fans with his first 25 career starts. Nola completed seven innings in 12 of his first 22 starts. He could not do it in any of his next 14, but he did it Sunday.  []

Sure, it was another loss. And yes, the Phillies failed to score a run. But we'll take what we can get.

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

Like the PhillyVoice Sports Facebook page.