The Phillies, for now, have no reason to believe Aaron Nola will be compromised in February when spring training begins. The young righthander missed the final two months of this season with sprains and strains of ligaments and tendons in his elbow. The team opted for a conservative treatment of rest.
But Phillies officials wanted Nola to restart a throwing program at the team's complex in Florida. He did that in October. The initial returns encouraged both team and player.
"After completing a full throwing program, and getting his side work in, he feels 100 percent healthy and ready for spring training," Nola's agent, Joe Longo, said this week in an email. "So, he is starting his normally planned offseason program."
Nola's health carries significance in the specter of the franchise's rebuilding. The 2016 season, team officials said, was about the progression of the rotation's young pitchers. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez are locks for the 2017 rotation. Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, Adam Morgan, Alec Asher, and Ben Lively could compete for other spots. The team may add a veteran starter through a trade or free agency.
The presence of Nola, the seventh overall pick in the 2014 draft, would solve more of that equation. Nola owned a 3.12 ERA in his first 25 major-league starts, but a 9.82 mark in his last eight before succumbing.
Nola had suffered what the team described as "low-grade" damage to his right elbow in the ulnar collateral ligament. He strained the flexor tendon in his right forearm. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist, recommended last August a conservative approach to treating Nola's injury. At the time of the diagnosis, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said, there was no discussion about potential surgery. Nola received a platelet-rich plasma injection.
A pitcher's elbow is fragile, and the Phillies will not have complete confidence until Nola recovers the form he displayed before. To start, he enters the winter with a healthy prognosis.