PHILADELPHIA — Aaron Nola has always struggled with allowing the home run. It’s the price of a being pitcher who tries to throw strikes. Keeping his pitches in the zone allows him to pitch deeper into games, but it also makes him susceptible to the long ball. On Monday night, in the Phillies’ 8-3 win over the Tigers, that cost him a historic feat.
Nola had a no-hitter going through six innings. In the seventh, he allowed a walk, and a batter reached on a fielder’s choice. It was not scored a hit because Edmundo Sosa made a fielding error at third base. With runners on first and second, Nola struck out Akil Baddoo. He induced a groundout to Spencer Torkelson, which moved the runners to third and second.
And then, former Phillie Nick Maton stepped up to the plate. Maton took three pitches and crushed the fourth, a hanging curveball, to the right field seats. Nola wouldn’t be credited with the earned runs, but that didn’t matter much. Losing a no-hitter is never fun; losing it to an ex-teammate is particularly cruel.
Nola struck out Eric Haase to end the inning. It was his 12th strikeout of the night, which ties a career high. As he walked off the mound, the fans gave him a standing ovation. The night didn’t end the way Nola wanted it to, but it was the first glimpse he’s shown this year of his 2022 form. And that deserved to be commended.
He has not looked like an ace this season. Nola’s walked batters at a higher rate than he has in recent years. He’s struck them out at a lower rate, too. He’s allowed more home runs than he did last season. Through his first 12 starts, he’s pitched deep into games, but often at a cost; allowing at least three earned runs in eight of those outings.
Monday night was different. Nola pitched with the confidence of an ace. A starter who has struggled with the pitch clock controlled the rhythm of the game. He retired the first eight batters he saw, and didn’t allow a baserunner until he walked Jake Marisnick in the third. He didn’t allow another after that until he walked Nick Maton in the fifth.
Nola’s velocity was up on all of his pitches, especially his four-seam fastball. He maxed out 95.4 mph, 2.1 mph above his yearly average of 91.9 mph on that pitch, and sustained that higher velocity throughout the later innings.
It was a masterful outing, the kind that Nola needed. No player has embodied the inconsistent season more than he has. Nola has had some solid starts, like April 28 in Houston, when he allowed one earned run through eight innings with no walks, and May 20 in Chicago, when he allowed two earned runs through seven innings with 10 strikeouts. But those quality games have been followed by some of his worst.
There’s no telling whether Nola will build off of Monday’s start, but it was an encouraging sign. He wasn’t alone in that regard. Trea Turner, who, behind Nola, may be the second-most emblematic player of this disappointing Phillies season, went 4-for-5 with two solo home runs.
These weren’t cheap shots, either. His first, in the third inning, traveled 420 feet to left center field. His second, in the fifth inning, traveled 424 feet to left field.
It was Turner’s first multi-home run game since July 16, 2022, and the Phillies’ second-straight multi-home run game. Kyle Schwarber hit back-to-back home runs against the Nationals in Washington on Sunday. Their lineup has not shown the titanic power we expected from a team that was built to slug, so Schwarber and Turner heating up at the same time would be welcome development.