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July 21, 2015

Seven things to like about Aaron Nola's debut for the Phillies

The rookie may have picked up the loss in his debut, but blame that on the lack of run support

Phillies MLB
072115_Nola_AP Chris Szagola/AP

Aaron Nola will look to take the momentum the Phillies gained in New York this weekend – and that the starting pitching has had since Opening Day – into the Phillies home opener at Citizens Bank Park on Monday afternoon.

Aaron Nola is not a "power arm," but he throws hard enough. He only has three pitches, but he knows how to use them to his advantage. He keeps the ball over the plate, but not right down the center, and always with movement.

Perhaps the 22-year-old righty's best asset is that he doesn't have just one. He has many. And the whole pitcher, the one 28,703 fans finally witnessed firsthand on Tuesday night, may be much greater than the sum of his parts. 

Aside from a solo shot to opposing pitcher Nathan Karns, Nola was stellar against the Rays, scattering 5 hits and a walk over six innings, while striking out six.

Here's his final line:

While the rookie picked up the loss in his first big-league start, that's hardly his fault; the Phillies offense mustered just four hits -- one of which came off Nola's bat -- in the 1-0 loss to the Rays. The loss also snapped a four-game win streak for the club since returning from the all-star break.

But the real story was Nola, and he was impressive. Here are 7 things I liked about him in his debut:

1. He throws strikes and gets strikeouts.

Nola didn’t walk a batter until there were two outs in the sixth inning. More impressively, he only ran the count to three balls against one other batter, John Jaso, who ultimately grounded out to Ryan Howard at first. In total, 59 of his 88 pitches were for strikes, which is what is to be expected from a guy who’s drawn early comparisons to Greg Maddux.

2. He has more than one out pitch.

That kind of accuracy can be dangerous for some pitchers, but not Nola. Almost all of his pitches have movement, and he can locate them whenever he wants. Just look at this curveball:

But he can also get you with his fastball, which is anything but straight.

Just ask Steven Souza Jr., who Nola struck out all three times he faced him.

3. He mixes his pitches well.

Nola isn’t afraid to start hitters with off-speed stuff, as you can see in this fifth inning at-bat vs. Jaso, who led off the game with a double off the top of the right field wall.

  1. Curveball - Ball
  2. Change - Strike (swinging)
  3. Fastball - Strike (foul)
  4. Curveball - Foul
  5. Fastball - Hit, single to RF

Sure, it ended in a hit, but if you saw how off-balance Jaso looked in the early portions of this at-bat, you’d know that the end result doesn’t necessarily mean the process is flawed. 

4. He isn’t fazed by runners on base.

Nola allowed a baserunner in every inning but the fourth (and the third, but only after Nathan Karns’ leadoff home run). Still, he didn’t allow any of them score and, more importantly, he didn’t allow a runner to reach third base all night (again, with the exception of Karns). That, combined with his aforementioned control and ability to get strikeouts makes for a promising career for the 22-year-old.

5. He gets a lot of groundouts.

Nola finished the night with nine groundouts compared to zero fly ball outs. The only two outs recorded by the outfield came via line drives — one to Cody Asche to end the fourth and another to Dom Brown for Nola’s final out of the night. Sure, there weren’t any double plays to speak of off those nine ground balls, but it’s good to know he can get them when he needs. 

6. He learns quickly.

Only one Rays player had multiple hits off Nola, and that’s Jaso. After Nola threw four straight fastballs to Jaso his first time up, the young righty began mixing his pitches much better. And as we previously mentioned, that second hit from Jaso was just a solid at-bat by the Rays leadoff hitter. 

7. He throws hard(er than expected).

Perhaps it's because all of his pitches have so much movement, or maybe because he was mixing them so well it made the hitters look late. 

Asked about that after the game, interim manager Pete Mackanin said he thought it was a combination of the late movement on his fastball and Nola's ability to disguise his pitches.

More to come, including postgame quotes from Nola and Mackanin...