ATLANTA — Aaron Nola wasn’t in the best mood Saturday night.
The Phillies’ ace gave up five runs on two long homers and got knocked out by the Braves in the fifth inning. Then came the text message that his family had been waiting for, well, forever.
Nola’s older brother, Austin, was finally headed to the big leagues after eight seasons in the minors. The rebuilding Seattle Mariners called him up from triple-A Tacoma, an offshoot of trading first baseman Edwin Encarnacion to the New York Yankees.
“I think I was happier last night for him getting called up than I was when I got called up, to be honest with you,” Aaron Nola said Sunday before the Phillies wrapped up their three-game series at SunTrust Park. “I wanted to get emotional, man.”
The Nolas become the fourth set of brothers to play in the majors this season, joining Kevin and C.J. Cron, Yuli and Lourdes Gurriel, and Corey and Kyle Seager.
Aaron and Austin were college teammates at LSU, with Austin playing shortstop and Aaron on the mound. Austin got drafted in the fifth round by the Marlins in 2012, two years before the Phillies selected Aaron in the first round, and as he made a slow climb up Miami’s minor-league ladder, he was converted from shortstop to third base and finally to catcher for the last two seasons.
At age 29 and in his first season in the Mariners organization, Austin is being used in a utility role, having played first base, third base and catcher in triple A. He made his major-league debut Sunday at first base and singled in his first at-bat and scored against Oakland starter Tanner Anderson.
“I’ve been through it with him in the offseasons. I know how hard he works every year,” Nola said. “He always stays super-positive through it. He always says, ‘I know I’m going to get there. I’m going to stay in ball until I get there.’ Not many guys do that. I don’t hear that from many guys playing seven full years in the minor leagues. Kind of shows a lot about a guy who sticks with it until he’s almost 30 years old.”
Aaron Nola got called up by the Phillies after only one season in the minors. Last year, in his fourth major-league season, he pitched in the All-Star Game and finished third in the National League Cy Young Award voting. He signed a four-year, $45 million contract extension in February.
But he has struggled this season. In 15 starts, he completed seven innings only once and allowed five or more earned runs four times. He’s averaging four walks per nine innings, a career high, and has given up 13 homers in 81 innings after allowing only eight through his first 176 innings last season.
“Walks and home runs hurt me this year,” Nola said. “I feel like getting ahead [in the count] is the key for me. I haven’t been doing that too much, but a lot of times I’m barely missing. That’s pretty much been the big thing for me. I feel good in my bullpens. My body’s healthy. My arm feels good. Just missing a little bit.”
Nola’s parents, A.J. and Stacie, caught the first flight Sunday from Baton Rouge, La., to be in Oakland for Austin’s first start. Aaron planned to follow along on his phone.
“It’s one of the better days that I’ve had,” Aaron Nola said."Probably one of the better days my parents have had, too. It makes a good present for my dad for Father’s Day."