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Phillies' Nola has solid outing in first taste of big-league ball

Aaron Nola strikes out four, walks none against a strong Yankees lineup in his first big-league action.

Aaron Nola was impressive in his big-league debut for the Phillies.
Aaron Nola was impressive in his big-league debut for the Phillies.Read moreSTEVEN M FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Brendan Ryan didn't get a long look at Aaron Nola from the batter's box, quickly ripping a double to right in his only at-bat against the Phillies' prospect in the third inning of yesterday's game.

But he had a pretty good vantage point when Nola got into a groove against a New York Yankees lineup loaded with its regulars, including five former All-Stars.

Ryan, a veteran of eight big-league seasons, stood on third base when Nola painted the lower outside corner of the strike zone with a 94-mph fastball to get Chase Headley to stare at a called third strike. Ryan remained stranded there when the 21-year-old kid followed by finishing off Carlos Beltran with a deadly changeup.

"He's got a live arm, with some good movement," Ryan said afterward. "He had a little two-seam run. With that arm slot, he's going to have a little bit of run."

In his first taste of the major leagues, Nola impressed virtually everyone at Bright House Field. The seventh overall pick in last June's draft, Nola threw three scoreless innings in the Phillies' 10-0, rain-shortened loss to the Yankees.

Nola, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, gave up hits to three of the first five batters he faced. But on a major league mound for the first time, he appeared more cool and confident with each passing minute.

Nola retired five of the last seven batters he faced, four on strikeouts. When his day was finished, Nola had struck out four without walking a batter.

"There was some nerves and some butterflies," Nola said, "but it was a cool experience for me."

Nola, who was a student-athlete at LSU this time last year, is expected to begin the 2015 season at Double A Reading. But the term "fast track" has been attached to the righthander since the day he joined the Phillies organization last June, so it's not out of the question to see him in a big-league uniform before summer ends.

He didn't hurt his chances yesterday.

"I like everything about him," manager Ryne Sandberg said. "I thought he responded well, I really did. His composure was good. He threw strikes. He made some adjustments early.

"He was probably a little pumped-up the first couple pitches, because he's a command guy down in the zone. I've seen him on the minor league side that way. He made some adjustments there."

The big-league cameo for the minor leaguer was reminiscent of a game that occurred 11 years ago this month in Tampa - minus the hype that comes with being on national TV. A 20-year-old Cole Hamels was matched up against the Yankees on March 5, 2004, striking out Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Clark on 13 pitches in one of his two scoreless innings. The game - Rodriguez's Yankees debut - was televised live on ESPN.

"He's pretty impressive," Rodriguez, coming off the first of three American League MVP awards, said of Hamels that day.

Now closing in on 40, Rodriguez was well aware of Nola.

"LSU, first-round pick," the embattled superstar said after singling and striking out in two at-bats against Nola.

"Good arm," A-Rod continued. "Power slider. Power changeup. I think he has a bright future . . . The Phillies should be very excited about him."

After giving up a one-out single to Brian McCann in his third and final inning, Nola saw Rodriguez step into the batter's box for the second time. In the first matchup, Nola fell behind and saw Rodriguez turn on a 3-1 fastball and rip it into centerfield for a base hit.

Nola didn't make the same mistake in Round 2. He threw a first-pitch fastball, followed it up with a changeup to bury Rodriguez at 0-2, and, two pitches later, got the Yankees' designated hitter to swing weakly at an 81-mph changeup for strike three.

"The one I almost choked on?" Rodriguez said of the pitch afterward. "Yeah, that was a pretty good changeup."

Nola was 13 months old when A-Rod made his major league debut in 1994.

"I grew up watching that guy," Nola said. "Unbelievable player. I kind of settled in and just kind of pitched to my strengths against him. It's the same game all around, and I tried to do my best."

Nola's best was pretty good on Day 1 in a Phillies uniform. He arrived in the home clubhouse at Bright House Field about 2 hours before the start of the game.

Before finding out he was getting bumped to the second inning - the Phillies wanted to make sure Jonathan Papelbon got his work in with rain in the forecast - Nola sat at an empty locker stall without a name plate and talked things over with catcher Cameron Rupp.

"When I saw [the Yankees'] lineup I was, like, 'Oh, it's a good chance this is their Opening Day lineup,' " Rupp said. "I didn't say nothing to him about it. But when he got out there, he didn't act like he couldn't get those guys out. He went out and did his thing and threw strikes."

"That was a pretty good lineup out there today," Ryan agreed. "So he's got some stuff."

Nola might have been excitable early, which is to be expected. He gave up a few hits early and escaped his first inning unscathed only when rightfielder Jeff Francoeur gunned down Rodriguez on a potential sacrifice fly.

But as his first big-league exhibition game continued, he was able to bury his fastball on the lower half more often. He collected outs with ease more regularly.

"I missed a couple of two-strike pitches early for a couple of doubles, and I knew I had to get the ball down more and I did," Nola said. "I made an adjustment."

"I was talking to him afterwards and he said what he took out of that was every pitch counts with these types of hitters," Sandberg said. "The few hits they had were pitches that were up in the zone. And so he got right back down in the zone and made pitches, mixed his breaking balls."