The sun was beaming and Aaron Nola was in attack mode, letting the ball rip through the 78-degree heat.
Just like the days back in Baton Rouge, Louisiana?
"It's hot as hell down there in the summer," Nola said with a smile about his hometown.
It wasn't quite that hot Saturday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, but Nola looked at home. He looked like himself, the Nola everybody watched in 2018 when he finished third in the National League Cy Young voting.
Or on second thought …
"Not just the 2018 version, but the best version of the 2018 version," manager Gabe Kapler said.
As the weather turns to warmer temperatures, the man with the most important right arm on the first-place Phillies could be turning into form. It sure appeared that way Saturday as he struck out a career-high-tying 12 batters to pick apart the Rockies in the Phillies' 2-1 win (see observations).
Nola delivered six innings of one-run ball in 106 pitches. He was firing from the get-go, striking out the side in the first inning on 13 pitches. All three punchouts were looking and punctuated by fastballs.
Five days ago from the same mound, Nola needed 38 pitches to finish the first inning against the Brewers. The weather was miserable, a wet 48 degrees at first pitch. He lasted just three frames, throwing 84 pitches in a no-decision.
That performance is now safely buried in the past.
"He was sharp, he was electric, he was running his fastball back over the plate off of the inside," Kapler said. "The curveball was sharp from the outset. When his curveball is good, you see lots of swings and misses, you see empty swings, and that's what was happening today for him."
Nola has a Louisiana coolness to him. The 25-year-old is laid-back, but he's laser-focused.
It's why the Phillies haven't been too worried about his 4.86 ERA entering Saturday or his pinpoint command not being all there through nine starts.
"When I've had conversations with Aaron after the starts that haven't been great, he's so consistent in talking about his process and that being the thing that he can control and the work that he does between starts," Kapler said. "He never comes off of that position. He doesn't cry in his soup, he's not thinking about the last outing that he had, he's already on to the next one. I think the reason that we saw him come out like lightning today is because of the work that he did between starts."
Nola improved to 4-0 with a 4.47 ERA, 60 strikeouts and 21 walks. He's 10 starts into the 2019 season and is only warming. Still, the Phillies have led the NL East and are just starting to see his best around mid-May.
"That's what I remember when I was with the Nats, facing that," Bryce Harper said. "It's getting hot out there, he's from Baton Rouge, so he likes pitching in hot weather, warm weather."
A quiet competitor like Nola knew Saturday's effort was possible, even with his previous start still fresh.
"It's baseball, anything happens," Nola said. "Last outing, I never threw 80-some pitches in three innings. I've never done it before, but it happens. Things can change really quick. Always got to trust what you're doing and keep working hard through the ups and downs."
That warm weather didn't hurt, either.
"It felt good outside," Nola said. "I got a good sweat on, I like sweating when I'm out there."
The Phillies will like Nola in the summer.
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