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Aaron Nola, Phillies pitchers struggling in two-strike counts

Joe Girardi and J.T. Realmuto pointed to that being a result of failed execution by the pitchers as it’s not the game plan to groove 0-2 pitches for homers.

Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola throws to first base during the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies.
Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola throws to first base during the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies.Read moreMONICA HERNDON / Staff Photographer

Aaron Nola flicked two curveballs past the bat of Garrett Hampson on Sunday afternoon to jump ahead with an 0-2 count in the fifth inning. A batter earlier, Bryce Harper allowed a routine flyout to become a single when he lost the ball in the sun.

But Nola, a strike away from facing the pitcher’s spot with two outs, seemed unfazed. And then he threw his third curveball, missed his spot, and hung it over the plate. This time, Hampson didn’t miss.

“I should’ve tried to throw it 50 feet,” Nola said. “It was a curveball down the middle.”

It was Nola’s third home run allowed this season with an 0-2 count and his 12th with two strikes. The Phillies staff leads the majors with 16 homers in an 0-2 count as Hampson hit another 0-2 homer in the seventh off Héctor Neris. Nola is tied for the National League lead for homers allowed with two strikes.

The Rockies hit five 0-2 homers in the four game series after having hit just three all season.

“We’re not executing our pitches when it comes to 0-2 counts,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “We have the least amount of wasted pitches 0-2, which means we’re throwing more pitches in the strike zone 0-2 than anyone in baseball. With today’s hitters, there’s a lot of chase in the game so you don’t always want guys chasing the strikeout for two or three pitches in a row but 0-2 is a good time to do it. I think our guys have the right intent, obviously they’re not trying to throw the ball in the middle of the plate in an 0-2 count but we’re not doing a very good job of executing.”

The Phillies, according to Statcast, have thrown the most 0-2 pitches in the strike zone. Manager Joe Girardi and Realmuto both pointed to that being a result of failed execution by the pitchers as it’s not the team’s gameplan to have 0-2 pitches grooved for homers.

“It’s more about location than necessarily the pitch,” Realmuto said. “Just about every hitter in baseball chases a fastball and a breaking ball. There’s a certain location you can go to get the chase. So it’s necessarily the pitch selection, it’s where we’re throwing it and being able to execute the location, specifically with fastballs.”

Nola has built his career on accuracy, so it’s been concerning this season to see that slip when he’s ahead in the count. He said he simply could have thrown a ball to Hampson and still had a two-strike count. Instead, his signature curveball fell flat. For the Phillies, it was just more trouble with two strikes.

“He’s a guy who especially when he throws his curveball with two strikes and gets it into the right location, it’s almost a swing and miss every time. We’ve seen that from him for a long time,” Realmuto said. “I’m not sure if it’s something mechanical or what but when he’s right and able to locate his pitches with two strikes, he’s borderline unhittable. We just have to hone in those counts because he’s one of the best in baseball in getting guys with two strikes. Most of the hits and most of the damage that he’s given up this year has been late in counts and just missing location with two strikes. When he’s right, you’ve seen how many guys he strikes out and how tough he is to score on.”

Extra bases

Enyel De Los Santos was designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Andrew Knapp, who returned from the COVID-19 injured list. Rafael Marchan was optioned to triple A to make room on the major-league roster. ... Realmuto went 3-for-4 with a double. ... Ian Kennedy pitched a scoreless inning of relief for his first appearance since Thursday’s blown save. ... The Phillies are off Monday before opening a three-game series at home vs. the Cubs.