First-rounder Nola impressive in Class A home debut
After rough first start, former LSU star allows one hit, fans three in four innings
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- It's been a wild month or so for Aaron Nola, from getting selected seventh overall by the Phillies on June 5 in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft to signing a few days later and making his professional debut less than two weeks after that. But it's been an especially eventful nine days.
Nola pitched two strong innings June 23, his first start for Class A Advanced Clearwater, but left with a forgettable line after a rocky third inning: 2 1/3 innings, three hits, five runs (four earned), three walks, three strikeouts and his first professional loss.
The routine-oriented 21-year-old was further knocked off course as he left the Threshers and skipped his next scheduled start, but for good reason. He was named the 2014 National Pitcher of the Year by the College Baseball Foundation and accepted the award Saturday night in Lubbock, Texas.
Nola's scattered week and a half didn't yield any ill effects Tuesday night at Bright House Field, however -- far from it. In his home debut with the Threshers, Nola allowed only one hit and struck out three in four innings against the Dunedin Blue Jays. The right-hander threw 48 pitches, 34 of them for strikes, as he displayed pinpoint command and flashed a nasty breaking ball.
"It was a little busy for me this past week. The adjustment's the big thing, and that's what it's going to take to play the game," Nola said afterward. "You're going to have to adjust to a lot of things and try to get on the best routine that you can."
Nola looked like the advanced young pitcher the Phillies banked on when they selected him, the kind of proven college arm who should take a more direct path to the Majors than his counterparts. He fell into only one three-ball count and two two-ball counts and didn't let the one baserunner he allowed get past first base.
Nola threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of the 13 batters he faced, some of them on his breaking ball. It might look like a slider given his delivery and arm slot, but Nola said it's a curveball. Slider, curveball, slurve -- whatever you want to call it -- he used it effectively.
After his shaky debut, Nola also was pleased with the results, but was already looking forward to his next time out. He certainly impressed Phillies director of player development Joe Jordan, who was in attendance.
"You saw tonight he's obviously very advanced. His fastball command gives him a chance to move and do some things quicker than most," Jordan said. "He's got a real good feel for sequences. He's got a real good feel for pitching both sides of the plate with his fastball and using the breaking ball, using the changeup at the right time. Very impressive. It was a very solid, workmanlike approach tonight. He executed pretty well."
"He's going to compete here. I think what I really see of him is his [velocity] and his command together, they're going to be pretty good," Threshers manager Nelson Prada said recently. "He can throw the breaking pitch for a strike. He can throw the breaking pitch for a ball. I really do think command is a lot for a pitcher, and he has the command."
When the fifth inning began, Nola retreated into the Threshers' bullpen in left field and threw another 15 pitches. The plan is to have him throw five innings in each of his starts as he continues to get used to a five-man rotation.
Nola threw 116 1/3 innings this spring for Louisiana State University and pitched once a week. The Phillies don't want to wear him out, so he's slated to pitch every sixth day. It's little wonder why, then, Nola said the biggest adjustment to pro ball has been the schedule.
"It's different from college, but it's fun," Nola said. "You get to the field every day and this is my job now. That's why I love it."
Nola's immediate assignment to the full-season Florida State League speaks to what the Phillies feel he's capable of and how advanced the club believes he is.
"It means a lot to me that they have that much confidence in me," Nola said. "Whatever they want to do with me, I'm all for it."
He said he's not thinking about when he'll get promoted to Double-A or how quickly he'll receive the call to the Majors. But the way he pitched Tuesday was a fine example of why the Phillies feel so strongly about him.
"If tonight what we watched is what he is," Jordan said, "then we'll make sure that we keep him challenged and get him in a spot that he's got to face the kind of hitters that we want him to face, so that we can evaluate him in that setting."