If you go by the days of the calendar, Aaron Nola is scheduled to be the Phillies Opening Day starter on March 28th. It would be the seventh consecutive Opening Day nod for Nola, the second-longest streak of Opening Day starts behind Steve Carlton in Phillies history.

But there could be a crimp in those plans.

“The baby might be on the way,” Nola said. “So, we got to figure out when that little one is coming. It might be around that date.”

Nola said the due date for Baby Nola is April 4. It’s close enough that the Phillies should have a Plan B.

“I think Wheels should take it, he’s earned it, man,” Nola said about his partner at the top of the rotation Zack Wheeler.

Wheeler is on a schedule that has him slated to start the Phillies second game of the season on March 30, so, unless the Phillies alter their schedules, soon, which is unlikely, if baby Nola arrives for Opening Day, someone else would be tabbed to throw that game not named Nola or Wheeler.

“I’m not going to announce anything,” manager Rob Thomson said. “There’s a long way to go. We can’t really figure out what day that baby is going to come. We may have to work around it, but you never know. We’ll figure it out.”

It’s a bridge they’ll cross when they get to it. Meanwhile, the Phillies crossed the most iconic bridge in Florida – the Sunshine Skybridge – as they made the nearly two-hour jaunt south to Port Charlotte to face the Rays Thursday.

Nola, Bryson Stott and Johan Rojas were the only regulars who made the trip. Edmundo Sosa was also there as well as other contributors you would recognize, like Rodolfo Castro, Weston Wilson and Yunior Marte.

Aside from that, it was a bunch of minor league guys and non-roster invites. The Phillies lost to the Rays 3-2.

Nola gave up all three runs in the first inning. However, he had a pretty encouraging outing. It’s hard to say which of his pitches were more effective than others because they don’t track that data in Port Charlotte, but Nola felt that his cutter and his off-speed stuff was on point.

“I felt good,” Nola said. “It took me a minute to get loose in the first inning and they hit a couple balls hard, but overall, I felt good. The cutter was feeling pretty good and I threw more of those than last outing. Curveball felt sharp and down. I was using it to get ahead of guys and it worked.”

He gave up a sharp single to Amed Rosario before striking out Jose Caballero on a curve. After Rosario stole second, Harold Ramirez hit a broken bat single to center to score the first run for Tampa. The batter who hit Nola hardest was Isaac Paredes, who roped a double to left field. After another strikeout, two more runs scored on a groundball to shortstop that was scored a single, despite the fact that third baseman Rodolfo Castro deflected what would surely have been the third out of the inning had he just let Sosa field it.

Nola allowed just two more hits and picked up three more strikeouts before being lifted in the bottom of the fourth once he reached his pre-determined pitch limit of 60 pitches:

“I thought he was fantastic,” Thomson said. “Two balls were hit hard. He commanded all of his stuff and got ahead in the count. His velocity was good and his cutter was real good. He threw more curveballs today to keep the hitters off balance and his changeup was good. All-in-all I thought he was outstanding.”

Rojas still working through things at the plate

All eyes have been on Johan Rojas this Spring, and he has had more plate appearances than any Phillie so far. However, he’s not getting a lot of positive outcomes at the plate.

He leads the Phillies in plate appearances this spring with 24. He has five hits, has struck out seven times and hasn’t walked yet. His slash line is .208/.208/.333 with a .541 OPS. He has three RBIs and two stolen bases.

The Phillies are still hoping to see a breakthrough before returning north.

“He’s still working through his mechanics,” Thomson said. “He got the fourth at bat today and hit the ball hard, finally.”

Rojas led off the game and swung at the first pitch. He grounded out to second base. In his second at bat, he tapped the ball back to the mound. In his third at bat, he struck out swinging with two runners on base. In the fourth at bat, he was again swinging first pitch and laced the ball back through the box for a hit. He took advantage of a slow play in the outfield and used his speed to stretch it into a double:

However, he was nailed trying to steal third two pitches later.

The Phillies are going to keep trotting him out there to see if he can get to a point where he serviceable enough at the plate to bat ninth and play great defense in centerfield. It may not be a lock at the moment though.

Other Notes

  • Taijuan Walker was originally supposed to throw live batting practice Thursday. He didn’t. He’s going through a touch-and-feel or bullpen tomorrow and then he’d be in line for either a live batting practice session or see his first game action on Monday. Keep an eye on this one, because it’s starting to get late early for Walker.
  • Cristopher Sanchez still doesn’t have a schedule for coming back from illness, but Thomson said he’s definitely going to throw a live batting practice first – whenever that is – before getting into a game again.
  • Ranger Suarez will start Friday against Houston and Max Castillo will start Saturday against Miami as the Phillies have consecutive home games at BayCare Ballpark.
  • Ryan Burr had to leave the game Thursday after feeling tightness in his right shoulder after throwing a pitch. Burr, 29, is in camp on a non-roster invite. He spent parts of five seasons with the Chicago White Sox before signing with the Phillies. He is tied for the most appearances for the Phillies so far, as they look to determine pitching depth, but this could be a setback for him. Thomson said he’ll be evaluated tomorrow.