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Why Phillies ace Aaron Nola will likely welcome a break from facing the Braves and Mets | Extra Innings

Thirty of Nola's last 49 starts have come against NL East opponents, including nine apiece against Atlanta and New York.

Phillies ace Aaron Nola has seen a disproportionate amount of the Braves and Mets over the last few seasons.
Phillies ace Aaron Nola has seen a disproportionate amount of the Braves and Mets over the last few seasons.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Rough night for the Phillies. How rough? Consider some of what happened in a doubleheader sweep by the Mets at Citi Field:

  1. The Phillies struck out 14 times and went 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position in the first game, a 4-3 loss in eight innings, then mustered only six hits (all singles) in a 4-0 whitewashing in the nightcap. In 15 innings, they had a total of one extra-base hit.

  2. In the first game, Roman Quinn made the final out of the fifth inning at third base when he came off the bag on a steal attempt with Rhys Hoskins at the plate and the Phillies trailing by one run.

  3. The Phillies didn’t commit an error in either game, but they also didn’t make a few plays that proved costly. Didi Gregorius was unable to double up Jeff McNeil in the decisive eighth inning of the first game, and a fly ball fell in front of center fielder Adam Haseley in a three-run fourth inning in the second game.

With the losses, the Phillies are 1-4 on the road trip. They would be winless except for Sunday night’s win by the length of Alec Bohm’s toenail if that toenail actually touched home plate.

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Why Aaron Nola is ready to face different opponents

Since the beginning of the 2019 season, Aaron Nola has made 49 starts, more than any other pitcher in baseball. Of those, 30 have been against National League East opponents. And of those, nine have been against the Mets and nine against the Braves.

“Yeah, man,” Nola said last night. “It feels like I’ve pitched against these guys 100 times.”

There wasn’t much Nola could do about that last season. With teams playing a regional, intradivisional schedule because of COVID-19 travel restrictions, there wasn’t much chance of avoiding Atlanta or New York (or Washington or Miami, for that matter).

But Nola’s first three starts this season have come against the Braves and Mets, including two in a row against the latter. He wasn’t sharp in either start against New York, struggling to put away hitters and racking up high pitch counts early in the game.

It’s probably not a coincidence, given the Mets’ familiarity with him.

“When I don’t have my stuff, it’s hard to navigate through these guys,” Nola said. “They take a lot of pitches. They foul a lot of pitches off, too. They make me battle. That’s what makes them good.”

Even in a scoreless first inning Tuesday night, the Mets made Nola throw 22 pitches. Brandon Nimmo worked a seven-pitch at-bat after swings and misses on the first two pitches. Pete Alonso fouled off three pitches in a six-pitch at-bat.

In all, Nola faced 24 batters who fouled off a total of 17 pitches.

None of this is to say that Nola was sharp. By his admission, he left too many pitches up in the strike zone, particularly his fastball and changeup. His overall self-assessment: “Kind of sporadic.”

“I just didn’t think he had great command,” manager Joe Girardi said. “This team makes him work. The last two outings he’s been like 80 pitches after four innings, both of them. He just hasn’t had great command against them.”

But Nola might have gotten away with it against a team that hadn’t seen him for a while. Considering the Mets see him more often than pretty much any other pitcher and had faced him only six days earlier, they were unforgiving.

The good news: Friday begins a stretch of 13 consecutive games against non-NL East teams before another stretch of six of 10 games against, you guessed it, the Mets and Braves.

Regardless, seeing some different hitters for a few starts in a row might be just what Nola needs.

The rundown

Pete Rose turns 80 today. In an interview with Bob Brookover, the Hit King sounded off on multiple topics, including whether Dick Allen should be in the Hall of Fame.

Center field continues to be a big problem for the Phillies.

The Phillies have gotten anemic center-field production and have an imbalanced bench. Is it time to bring Scott Kingery back from the Lehigh Valley alternate site? Not yet, apparently.

With Zack Wheeler set to face the Mets on Wednesday night, I spoke last week with his ex-pitching coach in New York, who believes the Phillies’ co-ace is “starting to wander around that same neighborhood” as Jacob deGrom. There’s no higher praise for a pitcher these days.

After being laid off last year, popular broadcaster Gregg Murphy is back on a freelance basis as a pregame and postgame host on Phillies radio broadcasts on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Important dates

Tonight: Phillies face Mets lefty David Peterson, 7:10 p.m.

Tomorrow: Zach Eflin vs. Jacob deGrom in series finale in New York, 12:10 p.m.

Friday: Phillies open a three-game series at home vs. Cardinals, 7:05 p.m.

Monday: Gabe Kapler brings the Giants to town for three games, 7:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

Many players say that it doesn’t matter where they hit in a batting order. Apparently, in the case of Phillies reserve outfielder Matt Joyce, it really doesn’t.

Joyce has started 956 games in his nomadic major-league career and batted in each of the top seven spots in the order more than 100 times. He has led off in 114 games, including Tuesday night’s, and also batted second 100 times, third 149 times, cleanup 105 times, fifth 145 times, sixth 156 times, and seventh 128 times.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: Who will be the Phillies’ 4th and 5th starters come July? — Mike Stevens (@MSIstevens) on Twitter

Answer: I’m speculating here, Mike, because I can’t seem to find my crystal ball, but I’ll guess that one of those back-end starters isn’t currently in the rotation. I don’t know if it will be Matt Moore or Chase Anderson who gets replaced, but I suspect the Phillies will be looking to trade for a starter before the July 31 deadline. Maybe this will finally be the year the Tigers trade Matt Boyd. Or keep an eye on someone such as the Rockies’ Jon Gray.

Question: I love Extra Innings. Thanks for doing such a good job. I cringe every time Vince Velasquez takes the ball. You and your colleagues have written several times that he could use a change of scenery. Are the Phillies trying to trade him behind the scenes, and if so, what do you think they could get in return? — Donna F., via email

Answer: Thanks, Donna, for the kind words and excellent question. The Phillies did gauge interest in Velasquez in the offseason. He might be pitching elsewhere right now if they had more confidence in their triple-A starters (think Ramón Rosso, Adonis Medina, etc.). But Velasquez is likely the best option to step into the rotation in case of an injury, which, more than anything, is an indictment of the organizational pitching depth.