ALLENTOWN - A clubhouse attendant asked Chase d'Arnaud if he had good handwriting on Thursday night as two disco balls shined a rainbow of colors through the Lehigh Valley clubhouse. He wanted d'Arnaud to take a Sharpie and inscribe the game ball from Aaron Nola's first start with the IronPigs, a good-as-advertised, five-inning scoreless outing in a 3-0 win over the Buffalo Bisons.
Nola struck out seven batters and walked just one. He scattered four hits and threw 98 pitches, 66 of which were for strikes. The Phillies' top pitching prospect arrived in triple A for what could be a short stint before heading to the majors.
The night was marked with fanfare as the team sold Cajun food to celebrate Nola's Louisiana roots. It ended with festivity as the team blared Prince music in a dim clubhouse lit only by disco balls.
"I had a little bit of jitters right before that first inning," Nola said. "But once I got a couple pitches under my belt, I felt normal again."
Nola's unusually high pitch count stemmed from Buffalo's experienced lineup. It was the eighth time this season that Nola had thrown at least 90 pitches. But it was just the second time he had not reached the seventh inning when throwing that many pitches. All but two of the Bisons' nine batters had played in the majors.
"After talking to some of the guys here, I knew they were going to lay off some stuff," Nola said. "They're a little more selective and older and had a lot more at-bats."
Nola mixed his low-90s fastball with an arching curveball. He said he felt confident with the curveball and could throw it for a strike when needed. He made Caleb Gindl, the game's second batter, look foolish with a strikeout on a curveball in the first inning. Nola used it again to catch Luke Scott looking to lead off the second.
Nola, who was drafted with the seventh overall pick last June. started 12 times this season with double-A Reading before he was promoted on Sunday. He had a 1.88 ERA in 762/3 innings, with 59 strikeouts and nine walks. Gabriel Lino caught eight of Nola's 12 double-A starts. The two were reunited on Thursday.
When Nola ran into a bit of trouble in the third, Lino joined him at the mound for a brief chat. The pitcher had allowed two hits - both of which were ground balls - and Buffalo had runners on first and third with two outs. Nola struck out the next batter. The inning was over. No damage was done.
"Like he always says, 'You have to stay within yourself. Make your quality pitches. Try to get a ground ball and an early out,' " Nola said of his catcher.
Nola retired the first two batters of fifth inning before issuing his first walk of the game. The righthander's pitch count was near 100. Devon Travis - Buffalo's leadoff hitter - would likely be Nola's final batter, whether he was retired or reached base.