Second double-A start a hard lesson for Nola

Reading's Aaron Nola looked sharp in his double-A debut, a 9-2 win. But in his second start, the first-round pick gave up three solo homers in four innings.
Reading's Aaron Nola looked sharp in his double-A debut, a 9-2 win. But in his second start, the first-round pick gave up three solo homers in four innings. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff)
Posted: August 18, 2014

HARRISBURG - Reading righthander Aaron Nola understood that this was another learning experience. After a sterling performance in a 9-2 win over Harrisburg in his double-A debut Aug. 6, the Phillies' first-round draft choice from LSU was quickly humbled in a rematch.

During his second start, also against Harrisburg, Nola allowed three runs on three solo home runs in four innings Wednesday. He struck out two and walked one in throwing 78 pitches, 51 for strikes.

"This makes me want to get over this quickly," Nola said.

With the Phillies so starved for pitching, Nola represents hope. With Wednesday's outing, however, he showed that, like any minor leaguer, especially one who made his first appearance for single-A Clearwater on June 23, there is still plenty to learn.

"The biggest thing was that he didn't pitch inside early, and after they got swings early he pitched inside well, and that opened up the outer part of the plate for him," Reading manager Dusty Wathan said.

Nola allowed one home run in the first inning and two in the second before settling down.

His fastball topped at 94 m.p.h., and one of those at that speed was hit out of the park.

"Sometimes it doesn't matter how fast, it matters where you place it, and 94-95, if it is down the middle and in their wheelhouse, then they can hit it," Nola said.

The Phillies are intent on limiting Nola's innings. Counting his 1161/3 at LSU, he has thrown 1562/3 innings this season. The Phillies don't want him to exceed 170.

This is the most innings already for Nola, but he says fatigue is not a factor.

"My arm is feeling good," Nola said. "It is feeling live."

The summer has been a whirlwind one for Nola. After being selected as the No. 7 overall pick in the June draft and signing for a $3.3 million bonus, he reported to the Phillies' minor-league complex in Clearwater. In his first appearance for the high-A Clearwater Threshers, he allowed four earned runs in 21/3 innings.

Yet he progressed quickly, and after seven appearances in Clearwater, Nola was in Reading, where the 21-year-old has been leaning on his more experienced teammates.

The Phillies are limiting the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Nola to no more than five innings per start. They don't want him to exceed 85 pitches.

"He is very aggressive, commands the baseball well, and spins the baseball well," Wathan said. "He has a good feel for pitching and handles himself on the mound well."

Like many young pitchers, Nola will have to improve his offspeed pitches, especially since he doesn't have a fastball that will blow by hitters on a consistent basis.

"I need to get a little better with my breaking ball, but that will come," he said in a soft but confident manner.

Nola is liked by his teammates because he has fit in, even though he carries expectations like no other.

"He was drafted where he was for a reason and he is starting to show it," Wathan said. "If we can get him to finish strong the last couple of starts, it will be a good experience for him at this level."

A strong finish could mean that he would begin next season at triple-A Lehigh Valley. There are those who think he could make the Phillies out of spring training, but, as Wednesday's game suggests, Nola seems to need more seasoning before securing a stay in Philadelphia.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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