Wait six full days for Aaron Nola to make his next start? Phillies manager Gabe Kapler would rather cheat on his diet.
So, rather than taking advantage of a day off Thursday to give Nola extra rest and have him pitch next week in Miami, Kapler decided to keep the 25-year-old ace on an every-fifth-day schedule and start him in Sunday's series finale against the Chicago Cubs at Citizens Bank Park.
The move was made for several reasons, many of which Kapler outlined Wednesday, one day after Nola's latest gem in a season filled with them. For one thing, it gives Nola at least two, possibly three, additional starts at home, where he has gone 9-0 with a 1.94 ERA in 13 starts. For another, it lines him up to start a game in the final series of the season against the division-leading Atlanta Braves and possibly the National League wild-card game on Oct. 2.
But for the many considerations that went into the move, Kapler had a far more basic explanation.
"Mostly," he said, "[it's] because Nola's awesome."
Indeed, Nola is 15-3 with a 2.10 ERA that ranks second in the league behind New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom (1.68). He is second in the league in WHIP (0.966) behind Washington Nationals star Max Scherzer, and leads the NL in WAR (8.9, as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com).
Since the all-star break, Nola seems to have found even another gear. He's 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and has held opponents to a .190 batting average in seven starts and has outdueled Scherzer in back-to-back starts over the last week.
The Phillies entered Wednesday night trailing the Braves by 4 1/2 games in the NL East race. And while seven head-to-head meetings over the season's final 11 games give the Phillies ample opportunity to make up ground, Kapler was asked whether the move with Nola was made in preparation for the possibility that the Phillies could reach the playoffs as a wild-card entrant.
"Everything matters, so I'm not saying that wasn't a consideration. It was a consideration," Kapler said. "A consideration that I think is worth noting is he's pitched really well at home. I'll let you do the math, but he is going to start at home more. And I think that matters.
"The main reason is because Nola has been tremendous and we wanted him starting sooner rather than later. That's really the direct and right answer, because Nola has been tremendous for us."
Righthander Vince Velasquez had been in line to start Sunday. Instead, he will start Monday's series opener in Miami.
When Jose Bautista got traded to the Phillies on Monday, he became the third player ever to play for three teams in the same division in the same year.
As the ultimate NL East insider, how does the veteran slugger see the division shaking out?
"[The Braves] are a good team — I'm not going to take anything from them — but they're definitely beatable," Bautista said. "If one of the teams in the major leagues can beat them on a day-to-day basis, it's this one. I'm looking forward to those matchups. I like where I'm sitting right now."
Bautista got a late start to the season after he signed with the Braves in April. He batted .143 with two homers in 12 games with Atlanta before getting released and signed by the Mets, for whom he batted .204 with nine homers and a .718 OPS.
After striking out in a pinch-hit appearance Tuesday night in his Phillies debut, Bautista started in right field and batted sixth Wednesday night.
Erstwhile closer Hector Neris has pitched his way back into being used in bigger late-inning situations. Neris has struck out 16 batters and walked only one in 7 1/3 scoreless innings since being recalled from triple-A Lehigh Valley two weeks ago.
"Given how good Hector has been, what I am thinking about a lot more is how can we get Hector back out there in the highest-leverage situation in the game, whether that's the sixth inning, the seventh, the eighth or the ninth," Kapler said. "And so the biggest moment, with the heart of the lineup up, kind of with all the pressure on, I am thinking about how to get him out and into that moment."