February 27, 2017
CLEARWATER, Fla. – Aaron Nola will make his 2017 Grapefruit League debut on Thursday in Dunedin, Fla., against the Toronto Blue Jays, Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure said on Monday morning in Clearwater.
Nola missed the final two months of the 2016 season with an elbow strain but said that his arm has been 100 percent since rebooting his throwing program last fall. He’s been in line with the rest of the healthy pitchers since camp opened two weeks ago and will follow the precession of starters making their first exhibition starts this week.
Probable Opening Day starter Jeremy Hellickson made his first spring start on Sunday, Jerad Eickhoff takes the ball today in Clearwater against the Tampa Bay Rays, newcomer Clay Buchholz follows tomorrow, and Vince Velasquez is on tap for Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte before Nola’s turn arrives on Thursday.
“Right now, in the spring, I’m pitching Nola later because of the fact that he had some arm discomfort at the end (of last season) and I’m giving him as much time as he can,” McClure said of practicing caution with the 23-year-old right-hander in a longer-than-normal Spring Training. “I can get him ready to go in any slot (of the rotation). Right now, I want the extra time in the spring to get into games and go from there.”
McClure said any possible worries he had with Nola’s arm subsided while keeping in regular contact with the pitcher this winter.
“Once he rested it, he said it wasn’t feeling good and he didn’t have any discomfort,” McClure said. “You’re always concerned about that, but elbow (problems) are a lot better than the shoulder.”
Nola threw a bullpen session on Monday morning at the Carpenter Complex.
Other pitching updates in Phillies camp:
• Right-hander Zach Eflin (surgically repaired knees) threw an up-and-down bullpen session on Monday morning and could get into his first spring game within the next two weeks. The ‘up-and-down’ bullpen sessions simulate pitching multiple innings.
Eflin’s next step, before being cleared for games, will be throwing to hitters in a couple of live bullpen sessions (which should come within the next week, health permitting, according to McClure). Eflin, who has had surgery on each of his knees since August, skipped a ‘pen session early in camp with swelling in his right knee.
• Right-hander Jake Thompson (sprained right wrist) is on a similar schedule to Eflin – he’s scheduled to throw his own up-and-down bullpen session this week and should get into his first game within the next two weeks.
“He’s close,” McClure said. “I would say next week (he’ll) throw a couple of (live batting practice sessions), and then I would see no reason if he’s having no trouble. I’ve talked with the trainers and right now he’s coming along fine.”
With the depth of upper-level starting pitching in camp – and the length of Spring Training in a World Baseball Classic year – the Phillies can afford to take it slower with Eflin, Thompson, and Nola.
• When asked if any other young pitchers have stood out, McClure named three: Ricardo Pinto, Nick Pivetta, and Ben Lively. All three right-handers are vying for starting jobs among a crowded crop of pitchers ready for Triple-A. All three could also be candidates to arrive in Philadelphia at some point this summer if they continue to progress positively when the regular season gets underway.
• Today's game against the Rays is being televised back home on TCN (The Comcast Network) but isn't being carried on radio.