Aaron Nola handed the ball Thursday afternoon to Joe Girardi with no outs in the fifth inning and the bases loaded. The Phillies’ three-run deficit would soon double to six and their eventual comeback felt unlikely. Nola, in his first start of September, recorded just 12 outs.
It was another disappointing start for Nola, who has struggled in recent years when the calendar turned to the season’s final month.
“Honestly, I forgot it was September today,” Nola said after a 7-6 win over the Nationals.
He was charged with six runs, three of which scored after he was lifted at 83 pitches. Since 2019, Nola has a 5.37 ERA in 12 September starts. The afternoon series finale at Nationals Park against a weak lineup was a chance for Nola to show that this September will be different. Instead, it was a dud.
“I don’t really look at the Septembers. I try to pitch as best I can no matter what month it is,” Nola said. “I’ve been hearing it about it from all different angles about September, and honestly, I’m kind of tired of it. Get ready for the next start and it was a good team win today.”
One bad start won’t define a month, but the Phillies need Nola to right himself fast as their path to October becomes much more accessible if Nola is reliable. They’re already without Zach Eflin, so having an ineffective Nola every fifth day would be a heavy burden.
“We talk about it every year, but he has to find a way to get through this and do this job like he’s capable of doing,” manager Joe Girardi said. “We know he can be outstanding. He can just as easily run off five really good starts for us.”
Nola allowed two home runs, both of which came on two-out curveballs. The first homer, by Lane Thomas, was Nola’s 11th homer allowed this season with two strikes, which is tied for the most in the NL. His second homer allowed was his 13th with two outs, the second-highest total in the majors.
Nola’s fifth inning was just as maddening as the rally that sent him to the dugout started with a leadoff single by the opposing pitcher, Paolo Espino. In a chance to silence the buzz about his September history, Nola came up short. But the month is just beginning and the Phillies hope he can change the conversation.
“He’s more than capable,” Girardi said.
Didi Gregorius and Travis Jankowski will return to the Phillies on Friday after spending time this week on the paternity list. Gregorius’ stay was extended by a day as Hurricane Ida did not allow him to leave Curacao after the birth of his child, causing him to be placed Wednesday on the restricted list.
The Phillies will have to subtract two players before Friday’s opener in Miami, with the likely candidates being Nick Maton and Jorge Bonifacio. Matt Vierling replaced Jankowski and had four hits in his first start. He could give the Phillies a good bench bat this month.
The Phillies became the first team in the modern era to overcome a three-run deficit against the same opponent seven times in one season. ... Rockies first baseman C.J. Cron beat out Bryce Harper to win the NL’s player of the month award in August. Cron hit .387 with 11 home runs and a 1.291 OPS. Harper hit .337 with 10 homers and a 1.231 OPS. ... Kyle Gibson will start Friday’s series opener against Marlins left-hander Jesus Luzardo.