MILWAUKEE — When Aaron Nola jogged Tuesday night to the mound at American Family Field, it had been four days since he was yanked from his last start before recording an out in the fifth inning. The final month of the season has often troubled Nola and his September struggles continued after last week’s dud in Washington.
This felt like a chance to change that perception, but Joe Girardi did not need to be swayed.
“People just want to erase what he did in August. He was pretty damn good in August, right?” Girardi said before a 10-0 loss to the Brewers. “He’s had one start in September. If I’m a betting man, I’m betting on the man that was really, really good in August.”
Nola finished August with a 4.28 ERA in five starts, but he was two strikes from a shutout in San Diego, had a promising start against the Dodgers shortened by rain, and ended the month with 18 strikeouts in his final 14 innings. He may have been better in August than his ERA, but that hasn’t been the case in September.
Nola lasted just five innings on Tuesday night, allowing three runs on six hits. It could have been worse as Nola survived some loud contact in the first two innings and pulled himself through the fourth and fifth after being roughed up in the third.
But if the Phillies are to reach October, they’ll need more from Nola this month than just five innings that could have been worse. The offense provided no help as the Phils were shut out for the eighth time this season, but Nola’s early exit allowed the Brewers to score three times in the sixth against Ramon Rosso.
“He’s left some balls up with two strikes that have hurt him, but I thought he threw the ball well. I did,” Girardi said.
The Phillies dropped a game in the standings to the Atlanta Braves, who rallied past the Nationals to increase their division lead to 2½ games with 24 to play.
“I felt good,” Nola said. “My stuff felt pretty good.”
Zack Wheeler was excellent on Monday, leaving the Phillies to imagine what their rotation would look like with Wheeler and a peak Nola at the top. Instead, Nola’s season ERA increased to 4.57, the sixth-highest among qualified starters.
He was a Cy Young finalist in 2018 and now he has an ERA well above the league average. He has allowed nine runs in nine innings over two starts this month. Both games could have been losses had the Phils not overcome the six-run hole he dug them last Thursday.
All three runs on Tuesday came in the third on five two-strike hits. The inning was extended by a sharp grounder by the opposing pitcher that sneaked past a diving Freddy Galvis, which may have allowed Nola to finish the inning without a run. So many times this season, it seems as if Nola is done in by one bad inning.
“All season, for the most part, it’s been one inning that’s erupted on me,” Nola said. “I thought I made some OK pitches that inning, they just found holes. It’s baseball.”
But like last week, Nola lacked command of his fastball and his curveball hung over the plate. The Brewers, a day after being shut out, were ready to swing. The narrative could have been changed on Tuesday, but it remained the same.
Offense goes MIA
The Phillies scored 12 runs on Monday, which meant Tuesday was likely a loss. Monday was their 12th double-digit output of the season and Tuesday’s defeat gave them their eighth loss this season following a 10-run game.
Brewers left-hander Eric Lauer held the Phillies to four hits in seven innings. The Phillies had just five hits, none of which were for extra bases, and had three chances with runners in scoring position. They did not have a runner reach third base.
The first four hitters — J.T. Realmuto, Jean Segura, Bryce Harper, and Andrew McCutchen — combined to go 2-for-15. The next four hitters were Matt Vierling, Freddy Galvis, Ronald Torreyes, and Rafael Marchan, three of whom weren’t with the team 16 days ago.
“This is what we have,” Girardi said after the Phillies dropped to 20-25 this season against left-handed starters. “You can’t say, ‘If we had this guy or that guy’ because we don’t. So we have to find a way to get it done with the guys we have.”
Realmuto bats leadoff
Girardi tried Realmuto in the leadoff spot for the second time this season as Odubel Herrera sat against a left-handed starter. Realmuto went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts.
“I just like his at-bats off left-handers and I think they’re consistently good,” Girardi said before the game. “I think he has a great chance of getting on and so does Segura. You get them on in front of Harper and McCutchen. McCutchen’s numbers against left-handers are Hall of Famer numbers. You want people on in front of those two guys.”