Pete Mackanin feels this year’s Phillies team could be onto something special. Entering his second full season as manager, Mackanin is filled with optimism.
There is one thing, though, that he’s a bit hesitant on: Aaron Nola.
This has nothing to do with his talent, but rather how the right-hander will respond after a frustrating 2016 that was shut down early due to a right elbow strain.
“I’m going to be nervous the whole year that [athletic trainer] Scott Sheridan doesn’t come into my office and say, ‘Pete, his elbow is bothering him,’” Mackanin said. “You don’t want it to get to that. You always think about it.”
Putting that gloomy thought behind him, Mackanin just wants to see Nola rediscover his fastball. After debuting with a 6-2 record and a 3.59 ERA in 2015, Nola limped to a 6-9 mark and a 4.78 ERA in his sophomore season.
Mackanin doesn’t believe the high expectations that surrounded the No. 7 overall pick in 2014 had anything to do with his struggles. To him, it was just a matter of losing touch with his go-to pitch.
“This guy doesn’t rattle very easily but I do think he got rattled when he got hit a little bit and he lost a little bit velocity, maybe because of that or not, he lost command of his fastball which is his bread and butter,” Mackanin said. “I’ve said it before, he’s one pitcher I’ve seen with the ability to command his fastball on both sides of the plate down in the zone and that’s his strength. He wasn’t doing that all of a sudden.”
Nola says he feels “like I’m back to normal” but will approach his third season with more caution than he has before. That’s because he knows how important health, especially to his arm, is for his sustained longevity in this league.
The LSU product will focus more on his routine and keeping it “strict” so that he be relied upon for an entire season.
“My No. 1 goal is to stay healthy,” Nola said. “That’s always going to be my No. 1 goal. … I’m definitely looking forward to this year. An injury-free [season] is definitely important for me. I’m just glad it wasn’t anything big or anything prolonged.”
Moreover, Nola is just eager to get to spring training where he’s well aware that he’ll be under the microscope as he returns from his elbow injury. He doesn’t believe any of the extra eyes on him will cause him to overthrow or get off rhythm.
Once deemed a future ace for the Phillies, Nola is ready to take that next step forward and prove to the organization that used a top 10 pick on him that he is ready for that role.
“We know what he’s capable of doing,” Mackanin said.