The Phillies might not have gotten the front-line starting pitching help that they needed at the MLB trade deadline, but their ace is finally returning to form.
It hasn’t been a consistent 2019 for ace Aaron Nola compared to his coming out party last season, which was always going to be difficult to follow up.
He finished third in the 2018 National League Cy Young Award voting behind Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, going 17-6 with a 2.37 ERA.
A large portion of the opening three months this season was a struggle for Nola, though the Phillies managed to take a hold of first place in the division.
The 26-year-old righty hardly looked like a Cy Young challenger, posting a 4.89 ERA in his first 15 starts.
He was susceptible to the long ball, allowing 13 home runs during that span while his control suffered. After posting a 3.96 strikeout-to-walk ration in 2018, that number dipped to a much more mediocre 2.5 during his rough stretch.
The Phillies were left scrambling for answers, which had conspiracy theorists tabling several ideas as to why the star was struggling.
Nola was coming off a 2018 season in which he pitched 212 innings, by the far the largest workload he had ever experienced. His previous career-high was 168 innings in 2017.
The residual effects from such a taxing season might have taken a toll on his arm.
Some suggested the new baseballs proved difficult for Nola to grip his dominant curveball, thus depleting his killer pitch.
A more realistic, easy-to-prove option, was the possibility of a physical ailment — even a minor one that effected with his mechanics.
Nola missed no time, continued eating innings, and eventually regained his stuff. It hasn’t been enough to stop the Phillies from dipping down the standings of the division throughout the summer, however.
Still, he is performing like the expected ace, which was punctuated by a seven-inning gem on Saturday against the Chicago White Sox. Nola allowed just a single run on three hits while striking out 10.
Over his past nine starts, he’s been nearly unhittable with a 4-1 record, 1.91 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 61.1 innings of work.
His control and put-away stuff returned as well with his strikeout ratio up to a 3.48 mark in that timeframe.
While he excels, other parts of the rotation are showing signs of hitting their stride.
The inconsistent Vince Velasquez, who gets the ball on Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, has allowed just two runs in his last 10.2 innings of work.
Jason Vargas’ debut was also promising as he gave up two runs in six innings on Friday against the White Sox.
In the meantime, manager Gabe Kapler might have found the perfect spot for the once-struggling Nick Pivetta.
The starter who posted a 5.80 ERA in 12 starts this season was moved to the bullpen in mid-July.
Since the move, the righty has recorded 11.2 innings of work in six outings and has posted an ERA of 2.31.
That included his first career save on Saturday in which he had to record the final six outs of the evening.
“His intensity has shot way up,” Nola said of Pivetta. “His fastball is nasty, his curveball’s nasty, he’s just getting after it.”