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Phillies’ Aaron Nola looking to find his groove on friendly Fenway Park mound

Sunday marks the last game before the All-Star break, and the star pitcher hasn’t had a good first half, at least by his standards.

Among 46 National League pitchers who have worked at least 75 innings entering play Saturday, Phillies star Aaron Nola ranked 38th with a 4.53 ERA.
Among 46 National League pitchers who have worked at least 75 innings entering play Saturday, Phillies star Aaron Nola ranked 38th with a 4.53 ERA.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

BOSTON — Aaron Nola leaned on a bench in the dugout Friday and stared out at the field. He has nice memories of Fenway Park. It was here on a Monday night in 2018 that he had one of the more eye-opening starts of his career: eight innings, four hits, one run against a Red Sox team that wound up winning 108 games and the World Series.

From time to time, Phillies manager Joe Girardi still talks about that game. He was an analyst for MLB Network then, and although Nola had been in the All-Star Game only a few weeks earlier, it was that start in this setting that seemed to cement his arrival as an elite major-league pitcher.

Sunday could be a meaningful start for Nola, too. It’s the last game before the All-Star break, and he hasn’t had a good first half, at least by his standards. Among 46 National League pitchers who have worked at least 75 innings, he ranks 38th with a 4.53 ERA.

“I’ve just got to eliminate the big inning,” Nola said. “I feel like that’s kind of hurt me all year. I allow three, four, five runs. I’ve got to try to limit the damage.”

In particular, Nola seems to get into trouble with two outs. He’s tied with Chicago Cubs right-hander Zach Davies for the league lead in two-out runs allowed (26) and ranks 10th in two-out hits (29). Those numbers are amplified when you consider that the first batters of an inning are 31-for-102 (.304) against Nola, which means the two-out hits are often coming with traffic on the bases.

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The Phillies were built around their top three starting pitchers: Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zach Eflin. Wheeler has been among the best pitchers in baseball this season and is a candidate to be the NL starter in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night in Colorado. Eflin enters the break having allowed three earned runs in 18 innings over his last three starts and has a 3.88 ERA in 17 starts overall.

But the Phillies need more consistency from Nola, who has completed seven innings only once in his last 13 starts. Since a two-hit, 10-strikeout shutout of the St. Louis Cardinals at home on April 18, he has a 5.28 ERA in 14 starts.

Perhaps he will find his groove again on the Fenway mound. In two career starts here, he has allowed a total of three runs in 15 innings for a 1.80 ERA.

“I feel like this year with two outs, I haven’t been able to put those guys away,” Nola said. “I’ve scattered hits around, maybe a walk here or there. I’ve got to eliminate those. I’ve got to work harder in those innings.”

Odúbel to injured list

After not playing in three of the last four games, center fielder Odúbel Herrera went on the 10-day injured list with left ankle tendinitis. The move is retroactive to Friday. Because of the All-Star break, he could return as soon as July 19 and miss only six more games than he did before being sidelined.

Herrera stabilized the Phillies’ weakest position after getting called up in April, even moving into the leadoff spot last month. But he has fallen into a 9-for-61 funk with 14 strikeouts over his last 16 games. Overall, he’s batting .241 with a .292 on-base percentage, 14 doubles, six homers, and a .682 OPS in 251 plate appearances.

» READ MORE: Five years later, revisiting the Phillies' missteps in the Mickey Moniak draft

To fill Herrera’s roster spot, the Phillies added reliever J.D. Hammer to the 40-man roster and called him up from triple A, where he had a 1.74 ERA, 33 strikeouts, and 10 walks in 20 ⅔ innings.

The bespectacled right-hander made his major-league debut in 2019 and posted a 3.79 ERA, 13 strikeouts, and 12 walks in 19 innings but got designated for assignment last year. Hammer spent a few weeks at the alternate site last summer before working out in the offseason at home in Ohio with former Phillies reliever Tommy Hunter.

“He helped me a lot,” Hammer said. “My big focus going into the offseason was I need to be better throwing my pitches in the zone. He made sure that I was held accountable for that. He would get on my [butt] a little bit.”

Extra bases

Early-arriving fans were treated to reliever Sam Coonrod’s throwing live batting practice, a step in his eventual return from right forearm tendinitis. Coonrod faced outfielder Travis Jankowski and catching coach/bullpen catcher Greg Brodzinski. There was some debate later over whether Brodzinski’s grounder up the middle would’ve constituted a hit. One observer’s ruling: Yes. ... Nola will be opposed by ex-Phillie Nick Pivetta, who got traded to Boston last Aug. 21 with right-hander Connor Seabold for relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Pivetta has a 3.87 ERA in 19 starts for the Red Sox, including a 4.09 mark in 17 starts this season.