You know when you go on vacation and you finally get to plop down in your chair, whether it’s on a beach, by a lake, or even just in your rental home and you get to close your eyes and disconnect from the world for a short time?
You know that feeling? The one you wish you can bottle, save, and whip out of storage in the more hectic moments of your day?
That’s what it’s like on days when Aaron Nola pitches like he did on Saturday.
That’s not to say that one excellent pitching performance suddenly means all is hunky dory with Nola or the Phillies, but a 12-3 shellacking of the Chicago Cubs in a game in which Nola throws seven innings allowing just four hits, two runs and strikes out 10, allows you to forget about all the other baseball concerns for a bit.
Gone is the five-game losing streak. Gone is the talk of an inability to hit with RISP (they were 4-for-12 Saturday). Gone is the condemnation of Trea Turner (who didn’t play) and Kyle Schwarber (who hit a grand slam). Gone, albeit temporarily, is the talk of a starting rotation in disarray. Winning one game can suddenly be curative.
The thing that is most-like that feeling of vacation serenity is that when Nola is good, the social media chatter, the talk radio hot takes and even the now famous Crossing Broad Slack chat are all muted.
And yes, that silence is golden.
Oh it’ll be back – the next time Nola is off his game, or he gives up an early lead, the cacophony of detractors will re-download Twitter and spew their fire all over the place, tagging as many people as possible to declare how right they have been all along about this guy.
The never-ending debate on if he’s an ace or not will recommence, and for those of us who like to chronicle and discuss baseball will feel like the narrative will have once again driven us into a PennDOT work zone during rush hour.
Embodiment of nola.
*me watching every start*: this guy is completely unreliable, he’s cost himself millions, he just doesn’t have it and is not a true ace
*stats*: actually he’s one of the 5 best pitchers in the league
— R (@rk89127) May 20, 2023
For one Saturday night, it was delightfully peaceful.
Nola may have gotten off to a rocky start this season, but he’s been showing a pattern of getting back to pitching like a guy who has twice finished in the top five of the N.L. Cy Young voting.
“That was vintage,” manager Rob Thomson said of Nola’s performance. “His (velocity) was good. He commanded the baseball with first-pitch strikes and swings and misses. All his pitches were good. He got ahead and just attacked.”
The Phillies are 5-2 in his last seven starts, all of which he’s thrown at least six innings. In those starts, he’s thrown 47 1/3 innings has a 3.42 ERA and more importantly, a 0.929 WHIP. His 10 strikeouts Saturday were a season-high and the 28th time he reached double digits in a game in his career.
Impressively, Nola has batters confounded. In a recent start he threw 20 strikes in which the opponents didn’t take the bat off their shoulders. That’s a lot for one game. But he took it to the next level Saturday.
Of his 10 strikeouts, five were looking – the most he’s had in a game this season. Since 2018, Nola has 321 backwards K’s in the books – the most in baseball.
Oh… and he got the Cubs to chase 15 pitches out of the strike zone. As evidenced from the video in this tweet from Phillies Spanish Language Broadcaster Oscar Budejen, he was flat-out dealing:
NOLA & SCHWARBER LEAD THE WAY#Phillies 12 #Cubs 3 🎉🎉🔔🔔🔔
Aaron Nola (4-3) 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 10 K
Schwarber 1/2, HR (11), 2 R, 4 RBI (23)
Grand Slam #5 of his career
Team RISP: #CHI 1/5, #PHI 4/12
LOB: #TOR 3, #PHI 8#RingTheBell #MLBpic.twitter.com/bzLmovM9R3
— Oscar Budejen (@OscarBudejen) May 20, 2023
One of the things Nola has really worked on since the beginning of the season was developing a new rhythm and pace in the pitch clock world. Nola was always at his best when he was able to slow the game down to mess with batters’ timing.
Unable to do that with a giant clock constantly counting down in his line of sight, Nola has had to get creative.
I lost count, eventually, but at one point Nola had asked for a new baseball 10 times in the game Saturday.
I asked him about that afterwards.
“The pitch clock is what it is,” Nola said. “I had to learn how to take it down to the lower numbers and throw some new balls out.”
And then he offered a warning…
“We’ll see how things go when it get’s hot,” he said. “That’s going to be a real test when it’s 95 degrees, sunny, muggy and no wind. We’re going to have some long innings.”
In other words, keep that supply of baseballs fresh, because he’s going to be throwing a LOT of them out and asking for a new ball frequently.
Regardless, it was a much-needed performance for a Phillies rotation that has been awful of late, and the length provided some much-needed rest for an overtaxed bullpen that has been called on to keep the Phillies in games.
Nola’s next start will certainly be one that is put under the microscope though, as he is slated to pitch the opener of a four-game series in Atlanta on Thursday.
Get in that traffic jam mindset starting… now.
An Early Kickoff for Schwarberfest?
A lot has been made of Kyle Schwarber’s innate ability to hit like Babe Ruth in the month of June. In his career, Schwarber has a .959 OPS in June with 47 home runs and 104 RBI. It’s the month with his highest batting average, second-highest on base percentage and that Ruthian slugging percentage of .607.
Conversely, in the month of May, Schwarber is Rob Deer.
In his career he’s hit .191 in May, the lowest of any month. He also has his worst monthly OBP (.321), SLG (.417) and OPS (.739).
Lately, Schwarber has been seeing the ball just a little bit better than he has for much of the start of the season, a seven-week slog for him for sure.
The hits may not be there on a consistent basis yet, but since being moved into the No. 5 spot in the lineup, Schwarber has slashed .177/.378/.529 for an OPS of .907. And while that is a very small sample size of just 11 games and 45 plate appearances, it’s also produced 11 walks, four homers and 10 RBI.
One of those homers came Saturday and it was… pretty substantial:
Schwarslam. Franzke. pic.twitter.com/mb9B5dwoR2
— Nick Piccone (@_piccone) May 20, 2023
It was his first grand slam as a Phillie, the fifth of his career and first since August 30, 2020.
Of the four homers he’s hit out of the No. 5 spot he’s now hit for the cycle of sorts – a solo homer, a 2-run blast, a three-run shot and the salami.
Prior to being moved to that spot in the lineup, he had seven homers – all solo.
(Funny how batting in the middle of the order provides more opportunities to drive in runs, isn’t it?)
Schwarber has been spending a lot of time in the cage with hitting coach Kevin Long, and he feels like the work will eventually pay off. After all, one home run is not going to suddenly erase his eyesore of a batting average this season (.176).
But when he was asked by MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki if it feels like his time of year is fast approaching, Schwarber had a little chuckle at first (NBCSportsNet’s Taryn Hatcher immediately quipped afterward that it was a #GiggleFest). But then Schwarber looked at Todd and said, “Can it be June tomorrow?”
Phillies fans are feeling the same way.
Kody Clemens' last 9 starts: 10-for-31 (.323), 4 HR, 8 RBI, 7 R
With 2 scoreless appearances in relief, of course.
— Corey Seidman (@CSeidmanNBCS) May 20, 2023
The headline is referring to Kody Clemens, not Corey Seidman, who is great with the stats on Twitter, by the way.
Clemens is making a case to stay a part of this bench for awhile, and maybe even to get some more frequent starts against righty starters, almost serving as a corner infield platoon with Edmundo Sosa as Alec Bohm bounces back and forth between first and third base depending on who is in the lineup.
Clemens was one of four Phillies batters with multi-hit games Saturday (Bryson Stott and Bryce Harper each had two hits and Sosa, filling in for Turner at shortstop, had three hits), but none were bigger than this:
Kody > Roger pic.twitter.com/89hneQ0q2x
— Nick Piccone (@_piccone) May 20, 2023
Clemens didn’t make the team out of Spring Training and likely only won out over a bench spot once he was recalled form the minors because the Phillies needed someone who could play first base, thus sending Jake Cave down to the minors, but Clemens is earning his keep and very well may have a spot carved out for him on this bench if he can continue to provide this kind of offense when called upon.
Turner was given the day off because he’s been scuffling both at the plate and in the field. He spent most of the afternoon working with Long in the cages and was the only Phillies position player who didn’t get into the game Saturday.
Thomson felt like a day off, giving Turner a mental break from his struggles, could work wonders and said Turner will be right back in the lineup on Sunday.
The Phillies starting pitching dilemma is a real one. Guys like Taijuan Walker and Ranger Suarez need to get themselves right. Suarez gets a little bit of a pass because he had no Spring Training and only had three rehab starts before being thrust into the Phillies rotation after an arm injury. Walker doesn’t have that excuse.
Beyond that, the Phillies have no reliable arm to be their fifth starter and the bullpen already throws enough innings, so going with a bullpen game every fifth day is not something they want to do.
But with Bailey Falter imploding at the major league level, Christopher Sanchez and Michael Plassmeyer being wholly unimpressive at the AAA level, uber-prospect Andrew Painter slowly recovering from his arm injury, and the next two prospects in the system – Mick Abel and Griff McGarry – not yet ready for prime time, the Phillies were in a bit of a pickle.
They are trying to climb out of it first by punting, and then by praying.
The punt is they are throwing Walker on three days rest Sunday rather than worry about the No. 5 starter. Walker had such a short outing in his last start that they feel comfortable with him going on short rest.
Zack Wheeler is slated to start Monday, meaning the No. 5 spot wouldn’t come up until Tuesday.
At first it looked like that lined up for Sanchez to get recalled, as that’s the day he’s next slated to pitch, until the Phillies made a desperation waiver claim Saturday, plucking 31-year-old Dylan Covey off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Covey only had one appearance for the Dodgers this season – an emergency appearance replacing starter Dustin May who was injured in the first inning. Covey pitched four innings of relief in that game and allowed two runs before being placed on waivers.
It was Covey’s first appearance in the majors since 2020, and his major league numbers are, well, not good:
Somebody had to look up Dylan Covey's career numbers… so I did. It should come with a warning:
6W-29L 6.54 ERA 1.591 WHIP and 49HR allowed in 268 innings.
Desperate times for the @Phillies
As @howardeskin just said to me, "He should fit right in with this rotation."
— Anthony SanFilippo (@AntSanPhilly) May 20, 2023
Covey spent the past two years pitching in Taiwan. Will he start Tuesday? Thomson wouldn’t commit to it, but you don’t add a guy to your 40-man roster if you don’t expect to use him.
Might it be a situation where the go with an opener before turning it over to Covey? Maybe. But, expect to see him against Arizona.
To make room for him, they put Darick Hall on the 60-Day injured list, but that was mostly a paper transaction as he wasn’t expected back within 60 days of his injury anyway. This allowed the Phillies to not have to remove anyone from their 40-man roster to add Covey.