Righthander Nola passes first test at Reading

Phillies prospect Aaron Nola made his double-A debut for the Reading Fightin' Phils against the Harrisburg Senators. Nola gave up six hits and one run in five innings to pick up the win at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Phillies prospect Aaron Nola made his double-A debut for the Reading Fightin' Phils against the Harrisburg Senators. Nola gave up six hits and one run in five innings to pick up the win at FirstEnergy Stadium. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 08, 2014

READING - Aaron Nola arrived here Monday afternoon, the first player among baseball's 1,215 June draftees to reach double A. The team store at FirstEnergy Stadium advertised "NOLA 10" T-shirts for $25. On Wednesday, a dozen fans crowded the railing above the right-field bullpen to watch Nola prepare for his Reading debut.

The Phillies are an organization devoid of talent, and they are lusting for a potential cornerstone. Nola, the seventh overall pick in the draft, is no savior because the Phillies' issues are not solved by one arm. But he fired strikes for five innings Wednesday, allowed one run, and braved one of the Phillies' most aggressive promotions in recent years.

"I had a little bit of adrenaline going," said Nola, a mild-mannered 21-year-old from Louisiana.

He came here two months after draft night because the Phillies' 2015 rotation is muddled. College players, especially ones who spent three seasons at powerhouse Louisiana State, are better equipped for immediate challenges.

It is not ludicrous to imagine Nola contending for a spot in spring training.

"It's great for the organization, where we are right now, to have a guy who is ready to be pitching in double A," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said. "It's exciting."

Nola's fastball hovered Wednesday at 92-93 m.p.h., a scout said. He topped out at 95. A few fastballs were not well-placed, and Harrisburg hitters lashed six hits (many hard) in those five innings. He attacked them; 47 of his 72 pitches were strikes. He struck out four and walked one.

He relied on his fastball - a four-seamer and cutter - early in the game. His curveball generated some whiffs in the final innings. The lone run-scoring hit was on a change-up, a pitch Nola said he later adjusted.

"The mistakes, they hit," Nola said. "They were over the plate. They were not good pitches for me."

He commanded attention. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. watched from the stands. Two team officials sat with scouts behind home plate. Carlos Arroyo, the team's minor-league pitching coordinator, was in attendance.

Projecting a pitching prospect is a futile task. College arms can provide a clearer picture. The last No. 1 Phillies pick to reach Reading during his draft year was Brad Brink in 1986. But Brink, also the seventh overall selection that season, did not pitch for the Phillies until 1992. He appeared in 14 career major-league games.

Nights like Wednesday offered a modicum of relaxation for Amaro. While in Reading, he received updates from Florida on Jesse Biddle, who made his first affiliated start since June 23 because of a "mental break." Biddle dazzled with five no-hit innings for Clearwater. The Germantown Friends alumnus could restore organizational faith with a consistent finish to this season.

The Phillies will soon cap Nola's innings. He reached 1522/3 Wednesday, including his campaign at LSU, and the team wants to keep him between 160 and 170 for the season. That leaves two or three more starts.

Nola has pitched on every sixth day as the Phillies ease him into the rigors of professional baseball. Hence, the five-inning limit on every start. He could have lasted longer.

"My arm felt good," Nola said. "My body felt good. The weather up here is great. It's not like Florida, where it's 95 degrees at night. They want the five-inning limit, and I agree with what they're doing. I'm all for it."

Nola looked down at the floor, as to avoid eye contact during the end of his answer. The soft-spoken righthander wanted more. His mere presence in Reading was impressive.


mgelb@phillynews.com

@magelb www.inquirer.com/

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