All Eyes On Aaron Nola While The Phillies Batters Try To Find Their Groove

Jul 21, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws a pitch during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 21, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws a pitch during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola faces a tough task taking on the Nationals in his return from an elbow injury in 2016

One of the biggest stories surrounding the 2017 Phillies is how Aaron Nola‘s pitching elbow responds to rest and treatment. Today, he’ll put it to the test against one of the National League’s best lineups in the Washington Nationals. Fans hope this will be the first of many trips to try it out on the hill with Nola’s pinpoint control returning to 2015 form.

We were all ga-ga from the get-go for Nola’s serpentine two-seam fastball, his teleporting curve and incredible ability to locate. As a rookie, he was keeping even the most seasoned and salaried MLB hitters off balance. They never knew what pitch was coming next. When Nola’s name was being mentioned in the same breath as Greg Maddux, it was easy to get excited.

But now we all feel that gnawing, teething rat in our brains. You know, the one nibbling away with Nola’s every pitch while we wince waiting to hear Tommy John‘s name. Because this is Philadelphia and we get nervous due to decades of defeat book-ended by the extremely rare parade down Broad St.

The good news is that it was Dr. James Andrews who recommended Nola bypass the surgery and opt for rehab.

"Last month, it was Nola’s agent, not Nola, who said (per the Inquirer’s Matt Gelb) that he was 100-percent healthy after completing a throwing program in October. And it was Dr. James Andrews — Mr. Tommy John Surgery himself — who recommended bypassing surgery for the cautious approach to Nola’s rehab.Anthony Stitt, That Ball’s Outta Here"

I’m hoping the crowd at Citizens Bank Park packs the positive vibes for Aaron Nola. He’ll need every last bit facing the Nationals nine. As amazing as his 2015 season was, it had nothing to do with games against Bryce Harper and company. Washington had no problem figuring out the rookie’s repertoire two seasons ago slashing a staggering .349/.364/.558/.922 with a .444 BaBIP. Harper and Jayson Werth lead the way with a .636 and .286 average respectively, plus two HR each against Nola. Yikes. If Aaron Nola can’t locate while leaving pitches up in the zone, it’ll be a short return and a long afternoon.

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The Phillies will face veteran right-handed pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who makes his first foray into a National League lineup. He made the team after signing a minor league contract but had a solid Spring Training. Guthrie has only faced the Phils three times but has manhandled them to a line of .189/.246/.321/.566 with a .190 BaBIP.  However, the numbers get worse in the two games he pitched at CBP falling to .088/.139/.176/.315 and a .074 BaBIP. Definitely a small sample size, but still strange as Guthrie isn’t ever going to be mistaken for Clayton Kershaw.

He has led the AL in home runs allowed twice and cracked the 30 mark three times in the same category. His career numbers are pedestrian at 91-108 with a 4.37 ERA and 1.338 WHIP over 12 seasons. If the real Jeremy Guthrie shows up today at CBP, the Phillies batters will again need to be patient in order to feast upon their pitch. Among Phillies hitters, only Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, and Daniel Nava have ever faced Guthrie, but with limited success.

I wonder if Pete Mackanin will lean left in the lineup by inserting Brock Stassi and Daniel Nava. Tommy Joseph‘s struggles out of the gate thus far are already drawing the ire of fans throughout the Delaware Valley. This is not to say there’s a controversy brewing at first base, but maybe Joseph needs a little time off to get his head right.

Same can be said for Maikel Franco as he hasn’t done much to show he’s ready to rise to the level we all think he should reside. With just two hits in 16 at-bats, Franco still hasn’t married himself to the idea of driving the ball the opposite way. Until he commits, pitchers will continue to dangle the outside corner carrot for him to pull. It’ll be ground outs and GIDPs a-plenty unless Franco can figure it out. Today would be a golden opportunity for him to flip the switch against a pitcher like Guthrie. Because tomorrow, it certainly doesn’t get any easier when right-hander Stephen Strasburg takes the hill.

Next: Opening Day at Citizens Bank Park Preview

Prediction: The Phillies finally figure it out and get to Guthrie. Maikel Franco finally goes yard and Brock Stassi gets his first Major League hit, a bomb into the RF stands.

Aaron Nola goes six solid innings giving up one run and looks to be close to his 2015 self.

Phillies 8 Nationals 2.