DUNEDIN, Fla. - Aaron Nola made his first visit to the Phillies clubhouse in June. The righthander had just signed his first professional contract. He had turned 21 a week earlier. The first-round pick was a millionaire.
Nola held a news conference and was introduced to Cole Hamels, who was the Phillies' highest-drafted pitcher in more than a decade until they selected Nola.
"I think he was in shock," Hamels said. ". . . Like I was when I was in his situation."
The shock should have worn off a little when the pitchers meet again on Friday. Nola is slated to start for the Phillies in a Grapefruit League game against the New York Yankees at Bright House Field. The team's top pitching prospect will take the mound a day after the Phillies' current ace pitched five scoreless innings in a 4-1 loss to Toronto.
"He is the future," Hamels said Thursday. "I just hope he doesn't try to go out there and do too much. Because you can get yourself in a little bit of trouble when you're trying to impress people in such an early time and stage."
The Phillies drafted Nola seventh overall in last June's draft.
Nola will likely begin the season at double-A Reading, where he ended last season. He made five starts at Reading and struck out 15 batters with five walks in 24 innings. He finished with a 2.63 ERA.
Nola has the chance to move quickly through the minor leagues after playing three seasons at LSU. His experience allowed the Phillies to skip sending him to low-single-A Lakewood and instead start him at high-A Clearwater.
"Just when they think it's the right time for me to go, it will be the right time," Nola said. "Wherever they send me is where I'm going to be focused on."
Hamels yielded two hits and three walks in five shutout innings Thursday.
Dalton Pompey tripled off the left-field wall with two outs in the fifth. Hamels struck out Jose Reyes on three pitches to end his outing at about 90 pitches. He struck out Reyes by throwing a curveball accompanied by consecutive change-ups.
Hamels finished with four strikeouts.
Nola said Hamels told him last year to be himself. Baseball in the major leagues is the same game with different players, Hamels told him.
"His composure, the way he handles himself and the way he handles a game is amazing," Nola said. "I can learn a lot just by watching him."
Joe Jordan, the team's director of player development, told Nola on Monday that he would pitch in Friday's major-league game. Nola has been in minor-league spring training. He has pitched two games for a total of five innings. The news from Jordan was a surprise.
Hamels' first major-league spring training game also came against the Yankees.
Hamels, then 20, pitched two scoreless innings on March 5, 2004. He struck out Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter.
Nola will be the second minor-leaguer to pitch this week for the Phillies. Severino Gonzalez started Tuesday's win over Atlanta and pitched three scoreless innings.
Nola has not been told how many innings he will pitch. It will likely be the same length as Gonzalez.
"It's always been a dream to pitch up there and see what it's like," Nola said. "This is what they're trying to do, like Severino: get our feet wet in that atmosphere and keep moving."