Phillies vs. Blue Jays: Aaron Nola bounces back, Nick Castellanos stays hot in Phils win
Important signs from Aaron Nola in bounce-back win over Toronto's hot offense originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Aaron Nola bounced back after he was unable to protect a five-run lead in his last start to help the Phillies to an 8-4 win over the visiting Blue Jays on Tuesday night.
As important as the results were Nola's velocity readings. After sitting 89 to 91 mph with his fastball in the first inning last week at Dodger Stadium, Nola was 92-93 early Tuesday, maxing out at 95. His four-seam fastball averaged 93.0 mph, up from a season average of 91.6. His two-seamer averaged 92.0, up from 90.8.
"It felt pretty good coming out of my hand tonight, I felt behind it, felt on top of it," Nola said postgame. "My fingers felt on top of my fastball and my changeup and curveball for the most part, too. Delivery-wise, it felt better than it had."
Nola held a hot Toronto lineup that had scored 18 runs the last two days and averaged more than 6.0 per game since April 30 to two runs over six innings. It was Nola's fourth quality start in his last five tries.
Those five outings:
• 6 IP, 2 ER on April 16 at CIN
• 7 IP, 3 ER on April 21 vs. COL
• 8 IP, 1 ER on April 28 at HOU
• 6.1 IP, 4 ER on May 3 at LAD
• 6 IP, 2 ER on May 9 vs. TOR
"Command was better than it's been the past few outings, especially fastball command, getting ahead of guys," he said. "Not trying to be too perfect with my pitches, especially my breaking ball, just get it down and away.
"As long as I keep the little goals going well, which is getting the leadoff guy out and getting ahead of hitters, keep the walks down, keep the home runs down, I think better things will happen. Just stay healthy and keep filling up the zone, keep the delivery good."
The Phillies have said they're not concerned about Nola's velocity because he has other weapons and is not strictly a power pitcher. In recent starts, he seems to have compensated for it by throwing more curveballs. He threw the curveball 24 percent of the time in his first four starts compared to just under 35 percent since.
He struck out six, matching a season-high. He's at just 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings this season compared to 10.9 the last three seasons.
His night was not devoid of stress. Nola allowed two doubles in the third inning but stranded Bo Bichette on second base with one out. He allowed a leadoff single the next frame but erased it with a double-play ball. He put three straight men on base in the sixth, including a leadoff homer by Bichette, but retired Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt and Alejandro Kirk consecutively to end the threat and his night.
Through eight starts, Nola is 3-2 with a 4.44 ERA. The ERA for all starting pitchers in 2023 is 4.54 -- compared to 4.05 last season -- so Nola has been slightly above average.
"I think he kind of emptied the tank there in the sixth, getting out of that jam," manager Rob Thomson said. "He knuckled down and stayed focused."
The Phillies got on the board on Nick Castellanos' two-run home run just inside the foul pole in left field in the fourth inning. Castellanos also doubled and singled and is hitting .356 with a 1.062 OPS, five doubles, five homers and 13 RBI in his last 15 games.
The Phils did a good job of tacking on, which hasn't been the case much this season. The Blue Jays scored in the sixth inning and the Phillies answered right back with two to make it a three-run game. Toronto added two more runs in the seventh and the Phils came back with three in the eighth.
"Everybody knows about them over there. One through nine that's a really good lineup," said Alec Bohm, who hit a pair of line-drive singles and scored twice. "We're always trying to (tack on). Keep the line moving."
Brandon Marsh's two-run double with the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth provided important insurance with the Phillies up only a run at the time and Craig Kimbrel warming up to face Bichette, Guerrero and the top of the Blue Jays' order.
"I thought we had great at-bats tonight, seven walks," Thomson said. "Overall, I thought we played an outstanding game. Our baserunning was excellent. "If you're going to score runs, you've got to walk. It's something we need to do. We grinded out at-bats, got (Alek) Manoah's pitch count up there pretty good, got him out, got into the bullpen.
"That's what you've got to do if you want to play championship baseball."
In injury news, Kyle Schwarber exited after the sixth inning with a left foot contusion after fouling a ball off his foot. X-rays were negative and he'll be reevaluated Wednesday. So will Jose Alvarado, who was unavailable after feeling left wrist tightness playing catch earlier in the day. Alvarado was in good spirits in the clubhouse postgame and said he hoped to be available Wednesday.
Kimbrel pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning with a four-run advantage after Connor Brogdon went 1-2-3 protecting a one-run lead in the eighth. Kimbrel, like Nola, had his best heater of the season. He struck out Bichette and Guerrero to end the game.
The Phillies (17-19) look to sweep the quick two-game series against the Blue Jays (21-15) at 4:05 p.m Wednesday. A great pitching matchup pits Zack Wheeler (3-2, 4.26) against Kevin Gausman (2-3, 3.86).
Gausman was hit around by the Red Sox last Thursday but has a 2.33 ERA in his other six starts. He already has three games this season with at least 11 punchouts.