Aaron Nola pitched, and the Phillies won. That combination is starting to become as commonplace as peanut butter and jelly, bacon and eggs, and surf and turf. The Phillies have won five of Nola's last six starts, but his brilliance dates to June 22 of last season. Since that date, Nola is 14-7 with a 2.71 ERA and has allowed just 137 hits and struck out 184 in 169 2/3 innings. Nola was at his absolute best in Tuesday night's 4-2 win over the San Francisco Giants as he allowed just five hits and struck out a career-high 12 over seven innings. The Phils have won five of his last six starts, and he is 5-1 overall with a 2.01 ERA. If only Gabe Kapler had left him in the game on opening day, he'd be tied for the league lead in wins with Washington's Max Scherzer.
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When the ninth inning started Tuesday night, the Phillies had a 4-2 lead and Hector Neris was still in the bullpen. That was newsworthy because this was the first save opportunity since the Phillies closer had faced five batters without recording an out in the Phillies' fall-from-ahead loss against the Nationals on Sunday in Washington. Instead of going with Neris to start the ninth, manager Gabe Kapler stuck with veteran righthander Tommy Hunter, who had come on in relief of Edubray Ramos to retire Giants all-star catcher Buster Posey for the final out of the eighth inning.
Kapler said the decision was about "really liking the Hunter-[Brandon] Belt matchup." It was a small sample, but the Giants' left-handed hitting first baseman was hitless in two career at-bats against Hunter and now he is 0 for 3 after striking out to lead off the top of the ninth inning Tuesday. Kapler then went to his closer, who retired Evan Longoria and Brandon Crawford to end the game.
It was Neris' 27th save in his last 29 opportunities, but only the second time in his career that he has recorded a save without pitching a full inning. Kapler was asked if his decision to start the ninth with Hunter had anything to do with what had happened Sunday in Washington.
"I'd say one thing had absolutely nothing to do with the other," Kapler said. "Nothing at all. We've been talking about it. If we have a guy that matches up really well with a hitter in the ninth inning, we might do it. It doesn't mean that we will do it. But in this particular case, given how close the game was and given how much we liked Tommy on Belt, we were going to go to it. We felt like Tommy was the right guy to get Belt out in that situation, and then we knew we were handing it over to Hector."
A big part of Aaron Nola's dominance Tuesday had to do with the continuing development of the righthander's change-up, which was a lethal swing-and-miss weapon against the Giants. Our Matt Breen broke down the numbers on just how often Nola threw his change-up and how often the Giants swung through that pitch during the Phillies' 4-2 victory.
For the second straight night, the Phillies also used the long ball to account for their offense. Aaron Altherr, Jorge Alfaro and Carlos Santana all hit solo homers. Alfaro's traveled 475 feet and Santana's was his second in as many nights, as the first baseman continued to recover from his difficult April.
Seranthony Dominquez made his major-league debut Monday night by pitching a scoreless inning of relief against the Giants. Dominquez thought he was going to work on his skills as a starter during winter ball in his native Dominican Republic. Our Scott Lauber describes how the Phillies had other plans for Dominquez and how he soaked in the knowledge of former big-league reliever Ramon Ramirez, which helped lead to his quick ascent to the big leagues this season.
Jerad Eickhoff (back injury) made a rehab start down in Clearwater, Fla. against the Phillies' players in extended spring training Tuesday morning, and Gabe Kapler said it went well. The manager, however, would not commit to Eickhoff's rejoining the rotation when he is ready to come off the disabled list.
Tonight: Nick Pivetta vs. Chris Stratton, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Vince Velasquez vs. Ty Blach in series finale against Giants, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Jake Arrieta opens series against Mets, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Zach Eflin faces Noah Syndergaard, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola closes out home stand against Mets, 1:35 p.m.
Odubel Herrera has garnered a lot of attention with his 37-game on-base streak, which he extended with a couple of hits, including an RBI single, Tuesday against the Giants. Herrera, however, is a long, long way from setting the all-time record. It's common knowledge that the great Joe DiMaggio holds the major-league record with the 56-game hitting streak he put together for the New York Yankees in 1941. Far lesser known is the 84-game on-base streak Ted Williams compiled for the Boston Red Sox in 1949. It lasted from July 1 through Sept. 27, and during the streak, Williams batted .371 with 20 doubles, 24 home runs and 80 RBIs. His on-base percentage was .518 and his OPS was 1.213 during the streak.
Two-part question: Given (Carlos) Santana's struggles after signing the big (free-agent) contract, is there any analysis of first-year performance of players who have done similar? Is he an anomaly or the norm, i.e., trying too hard to prove his worth to new team/city?
Also, do you see any possibility (Matt) Klentak moves him at the deadline to get Aaron Altherr /Nick Williams more ABs to determine their futures? Clearly, they'll need to clear an outfield spot if they go after Bryce Harper this offseason.
John B., email
Answer: Even though Giancarlo Stanton went to the New York Yankees in a trade rather than as a free agent, it could be argued that he is experiencing a similar struggle to Santana at the moment. Before slugging a couple of home runs Tuesday night in the Yanks' win over Boston, he was hitting .227 with a .313 on-base percentage and a .768 OPS. He still leads the majors with 53 strikeouts. The point is that, yes, a lot of guys struggle after changing teams and especially when they change leagues. Edwin Encarnacion got off to a rough start in his first year with Cleveland after signing as a free agent, but finished strong for the Indians.