Phillies' Aaron Nola striking in shutout over Astros
Aaron Nola pitched six shutout innings and had a career-high 10 strikeouts against one of the best lineups in baseball.
It was just six weeks ago that concern lingered around Aaron Nola as his ERA soared and his back tightened a season after he was sidelined with an elbow impingement. Perhaps Nola was not the pitcher the Phillies had hoped he was after he raced two summers ago through the minor leagues.
It took just six weeks for those doubts to dissipate. Nola delivered again on Wednesday night as he tamed baseball's best offense in a 9-0 win over Houston at Citizens Bank Park. He dominated the Astros for six scoreless innings, striking out a career-high 10 batters and walking just one while allowing four hits. The Astros were shut out for just the third time this season and first since May 20.
"I think so," Nola said when asked if he thought he turned his season around. "I think it all started with just commanding the strike zone, getting the leadoff hitter out, and getting strike one. That changed everything. It changes everything when you get strike one."
Nola has a 1.49 ERA in his last seven starts after registering a 4.76 mark through his first nine starts. The righthander became the first Phillies pitcher since Curt Schilling in 1998 to strike out seven or more batters in six straight starts. He has seemed to right his season. It may be tough to find a reason to watch the Phillies over the season's final nine weeks, but Nola will provide a reason every fifth game.
"All of his pitches have been really good. We're all really happy about the progress that he's made," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's turned the corner, I think. He held runners well when they were on. I don't have enough accolades for him right now. I'm pretty happy."
Cameron Rupp hit a pair of two-run homers, becoming the first Phillies catcher since Mike Lieberthal in 2006 to homer twice in a game. Rupp will spend Thursday's off day hosting a charity event for the Pennsylvania SPCA at Morgan's Pier. Tommy Joseph, who scored on both of Rupp's blasts, hit a two-run double in the fourth. Nick Williams singled in a run and Maikel Franco homered off the foul pole in the fifth.
The Phillies announced after the game that they had traded righthander Pat Neshek and cash considerations to the Colorado Rockies Wednesday night for shortstop Jose Gomez and righthanded pitchers Alejandro Requena and J.D. Hammer.
The trade value of Howie Kendrick appeared to take a dip when he left the game after being hit by a pitch on the left hand. Mackanin said the injury is a bruise, which keeps alive the chance that Kendrick could play himself into a trade before the July 31 deadline.
Nola's previous six starts were impressive, but the true test would be against the Astros. He proved himself against an offense that has scored more runs than any other team and fielded a lineup on Wednesday with four of their top five hitters batting above .293. The Astros were missing three regulars but were far from a pushover. Nola became the first National League East pitcher this season to defeat them.
"It's a good team but I was just sticking with my plan to get the leadoff hitter out," Nola said. "I did that every inning except the first inning. I was just sticking to my plan and commanding the zone with both sides of the plate with my off-speed stuff."
He silenced them with his curveball, using the breaking pitch to record seven of his 10 strikeouts. Nola said it was the best his curveball had felt this year.
The pitch – when it moves like it did on Wednesday – is an elite offering. Nola used the curveball to spot an 0-2 count with two outs in the sixth against Marwin Gonzalez, who watched a pair of curveballs dot the bottom part of the strike zone. Gonzalez then fouled off three straight fastballs, challenging Nola to revert back to the curveball. He did and Gonzalez could not touch it. Another brilliant Nola start was finished and those doubts seemed even further removed.