Until last night, no Phillies starter had yet to navigate himself beyond the sixth inning of a game this season. Aaron Nola, in his third start of the year, accomplished against the Reds what he likely should have back on Opening Day in Atlanta by earning his first win. He was brilliant over eight dominant innings of one-run baseball on a night when Gabe Kapler needed to give a bullpen that has logged 8.1 innings since Sunday some well-earned rest.
Nola was so good that he made it impossible for the manager to saunter from the dugout six times to usher in his nightly parade of relievers. That’s progress! As Kapler remained parked in the dugout, he watched his best pitcher become only the fifth National League starter to last at least eight innings in a start this season.
It appeared early on that Nola’s gem would be wasted as the Phillies were held hitless through five innings, somehow, by Homer Bailey. But an inning after an Odubel Herrera RBI double tied the game at 1-1 in the sixth, J.P. Crawford’s well-timed second hit of the season plated the go-ahead run. Scott Kingery provided the insurance in the eighth-inning with a 374-foot middle finger of a grand slam to ice the game after Reds manager Bryan Price elected to intentionally walk Nick Williams. Kingery would have none of it.
The night, however, belonged to Nola. His 103rd and final pitch of the evening resulted in a weak fly ball that retired Jose Peraza to finish the eighth. He set down the final 10 Reds hitters he faced on a night when he allowed only three hits while striking out six.
If his first three starts are any indication, Nola appears poised to elevate his game and force recognition as one of the National League’s premiere pitchers from those who have been foolishly slow to give it to him. Opponents are batting a paltry .161 against the 24-year-old right-hander, and his 0.98 WHIP is among the best in baseball.
What you are about to see is the stuff of an ace. No hyperbole, no equivocation, no hesitancy–Aaron Nola is an ace.
Here’s a 93.4 mph two-seam fastball just off the plate that’s effectively framed by Jorge Alfaro for a called third strike:
Aaron Nola doing Aaron Nola things. pic.twitter.com/TCDRVEUaAt
— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) April 10, 2018
Nola had full command of his curveball against the Reds. Alex Blandino looked like a total asshole against this 76.9 mph bender for out number one in the third inning:
Did you know that Homer Bailey has a .164 career batting average and is considered to be one of the game’s more competent hitting pitchers? He did not look like it here:
The curveball is Nola’s elite pitch, but his fastball, which he is throwing 39.4% of the time through three starts (up from 27.9% a season ago), is also a quality offering. Nola goes upstairs with one at 93.9 mph to finish Adam Duvall and the Reds in the sixth inning:
The best part? It appears Nola climbs the ladder a bit, which he does, but the pitch was also a fringe strike:
When Nola has this command of his entire repertoire, hitters have virtually no chance. And here’s the thing, we have not yet seen Nola at his sharpest in 2018. His K/BB ratio has notably dipped from 3.76 in 2017 to 1.63 this season, but there is nothing to suggest from a velocity or movement standpoint that anything with his arm is amiss, so by simply reverting to career norms Nola has a chance to further elevate his game beyond what we have seen to this point.
Maybe it’s because he doesn’t throw 97 mph, perhaps it because he’s not an imposing figure by traditional standards, or maybe it’s that he pitches for a team that hasn’t had much success since he’s been here, but Nola has been one of the National League’s best pitchers dating back to the start of the 2017 season. My guess is that those who have yet to figure that out are about to very soon.