Righty allows 7 runs over 5 innings, with first 3 free passes of season all scoring
By Evan Webeck
PHILADELPHIA -- Aaron Nola had yet to walk a batter in 14 innings over two starts to begin the 2016 season. Then, against the first batter of the game Saturday, he did. And then he did so again in the fourth. And again in the fifth.
All three walks came around to score in the Phillies' 8-1 loss to the Nationals. Nola allowed seven runs over five innings, including Bryce Harper's two-run shot to right which scored Anthony Rendon, who -- you guessed it -- reached on a walk to lead off the inning.
In the fourth, Nola intentionally walked Washington's No. 8 hitter, Danny Espinosa, with Wilson Ramos on second to get to pitcher Max Scherzer. He left a fastball up and Scherzer ripped a two-run double to right.
"I was missing spots on my fastball," Nola said. "My two-seam, I didn't have it out of the gate. I kept missing, and they didn't miss swinging."
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin attributed Nola's fastball issues to the ball running back over the plate when he threw to his glove side. That's the pitch Scherzer hit his double against, and Daniel Murphy tripled off that same pitch.
Before the game, Mackanin mentioned to Nationals manager Dusty Baker Nola's ability to command his fastball.
"This guy's got a real knack for pinpointing his fastball at the knees on both sides of the plate," Mackanin said he told Baker. "He didn't have that today."
One of Nola's biggest assets as a pitcher is his strike-throwing ability. After his home-opening start on Monday, Mackanin said he wished Nola was even a little more "effectively wild." Nola left Saturday's game having thrown 80 pitches -- the fourth-fewest in an outing for him in his career -- and only 49 for strikes.
That amounts to a strike rate of 61.3 percent. It's the fifth-lowest of Nola's career, but there hasn't necessarily been a trend of ineffectiveness there. Twice he's thrown fewer than 60 percent strikes, resulting in two three-run outings of five and six innings each. Two more times he had exactly 60.4 percent, in both of which he went seven innings and allowed one run.
The seven runs the Nationals posted against him Saturday were the most he's given up in his young career. Twice Nola has allowed six runs. In those starts, he threw 70.7 and 73.4 percent strikes.
"My plan of attack is to be aggressive. But there's different parts of being aggressive," Nola said. "There's being aggressive and making quality pitches, and there's hitting your spots."
The Nationals have found success against Nola and Jeremy Hellickson by being aggressive, themselves, and making the pitchers pay for their mistakes.
"We've got to make quality pitches," Nola said. "They're hitting mistakes well right now. That's why they're scoring a lot of runs."
After throwing 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, Phillies starters have allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in eight innings against the Nationals. They entered the series with a league-leading 2.14 ERA, but that has increased to 3.42.
Evan Webeck is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.