Nola offers positive signs after early struggles

Young right-hander retires final 10 batters following 5-run frame vs. Royals

Nola offers positive signs after early struggles

PHILADELPHIA -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin spoke candidly Saturday afternoon about the possibilities for Aaron Nola if he struggled for a fifth consecutive start that night against the Royals at Citizens Bank Park.

Options included skipping his next start, having him rejoin the Phillies' rotation following the All-Star break, or optioning him to the Minor Leagues, where he could fix his mechanics and regain his confidence in a more relaxed environment. The Phillies seemed to be setting up those possibilities, mentioning Nola could be battling a "dead arm."

Nola allowed five runs in five innings in a 6-2 loss to the Royals, making him 0-4 with a 13.50 ERA in his last five starts. But Nola also retired the final 10 batters he faced, striking out six of them.

"I felt like my old self right there," Nola said.

"Very encouraging," Mackanin said.

But Mackanin remained noncommittal when asked if Nola will make his next scheduled start Thursday in Colorado.

"We'll see," he said. "We're going to talk about it."

Mackanin on the outing by Nola

Nola obviously wants to pitch at Coors Field.

"I'd rather take the ball," he said. "I'd rather keep going out there. … Overall I feel good, my body is healthy."

But a skipped start could have its benefits. The Phillies gave Cole Hamels an extra two days of rest in July 2013, when he was 2-11 with a 4.58 ERA. They said they hoped the extra time could clear Hamels' mind. Hamels disagreed with the assessment that he needed a break, but he went 6-3 with a 2.68 ERA in his final 16 starts.

Nola allowed five runs in a second inning that included a little bit of bad luck. The Royals had runners on first and second with no outs when Jarrod Dyson hit a ground ball to Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez. It looked like a double-play opportunity, but Hernandez could not get the ball out of his glove quickly enough, instead getting only a forceout at second base. Royals pitcher Danny Duffy then popped a bunt over Nola's head for the first hit of his career, which allowed Cheslor Cuthbert to score.

Duffy's RBI bunt single

Alex Gordon flied out to left field for the second out -- it would have been the third if Hernandez had flipped the ball to Freddy Galvis earlier or if Duffy's bunt hadn't landed in no man's land -- then Whit Merrifield singled and Kendrys Morales followed with a homer to right to make it 5-1.

Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure visited Nola on the mound after the homer. Nola did not allow a baserunner the rest of the way, which included his first 1-2-3 inning since May 31.

But the line remains the same: five innings, six hits, five runs, five earned runs, one walk, seven strikeouts, one home run. He became the first Phillies starter to allow five or more runs in four consecutive starts since Tyler Cloyd had a five-start streak in 2013.

"I don't think I have dead arm," Nola said. "Maybe the ball wasn't coming out as good [in June], but I was healthy through this month. I've been healthy all year, and my arm's been feeling pretty good. I think there were just some command issues and trying to overthrow. I feel like today I challenged the hitters and kind of went right after them."

Mackanin said the Phillies should have an answer about Nola as early as Sunday. He said he and management will make the decision.

"I'm going to see what they have to say, but I'm planning to make my next start," Nola said. "I feel good right now."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.