BRADENTON, Fla. — In his final exhibition start before his first career opening-day assignment, Phillies righthander Aaron Nola turned in four scoreless innings Friday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirates at LECOM Park and declared himself ready for Thursday's opener against the Braves in Atlanta.
"I feel like I'm ready to go," he said after allowing four hits and one walk while striking out five. "My stuff felt pretty good today. It has felt good all spring training. It's time to start the preparation [for Atlanta] now."
As he did last year when he went 12-11 with a 3.54 earned run average, Nola pounded the strike zone, throwing 45 of his 64 pitches for strikes.
"His curveball and change-up both got better as the outing went along," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "A perfect tune-up for opening day. He's certainly ready. We got him right where we want him with pitches and he got to that pitch count by throwing strikes — a lot of them. He's starting to look to me a lot like what I saw in [Zack] Greinke … when he was in Kansas City. It's just kind of a familiar look to the way he uses the gas pedal and the brake effectively and fills up the strike zone with all his pitches."
After struggling for most of this spring, Maikel Franco launched a couple of home runs and finished with six RBIs in the Phillies' 8-2 win over the Pirates. Franco got a green light from Kapler on a 3-0 pitch and slammed a two-run home run off lefty Steven Brault deep over the left-field wall in the top of the fourth inning. An inning later, he hit a first-pitch grand slam off reliever Tate Scioneaux to give the Phillies an 8-0 lead. The two homers gave Franco five for the spring.
"Attacking in the 3-0 count, that was pretty impressive," Kapler said. "It just demonstrates how much confidence he has. Quick funny story. As he was going back out for his at-bat after the homer on 3-0, I looked at him and said, 'Otro' — another one in Spanish. He said, 'No, line drive up the middle.' And then, boom, homer."
Catcher Jorge Alfaro drove in the other two runs for the Phillies with a first-inning double.