By PATRICK GORDON | Managing Editor
April 11, 2016 - Updated 6:45 p.m.
PHILADELPHIA - Aaron Nola showed glimpses of dominance during the Phillies home opener, but he also looked at times like a young hurler still susceptible to costly mistakes.
The 22-year-old right-hander set a career-high with nine strikeouts, but the Padres were able to make the most of just six hits en route to a 4-3 win over the Phillies on Monday in front of a sold out crowd at Citizens Bank Park.
Nola cruised through the first two frames, tossing 16 of his first 21 pitches of the afternoon for strikes while punching out three. He ran into trouble though in the third when Alexi Ramirez hit a bloop single to center to open the frame and Alexi Amarista followed with a base hit up the middle. Both eventually scored via a John Jay double and a Cory Spangenberg ground-out, pushing the Padres to an early 2-0 lead.
Nola then made a miscue in the third, hanging a 2-2 curve-ball over the plate to Wil Myers who deposited the pitch about five rows deep in left center field, pushing the Padres to a 3-0 lead.
Through seven innings on the day, Nola surrendered four runs on six hits.
"Nola was pretty good, but he got hurt by his secondary pitches," said manager Pete Mackanin. "Other than that he pitched well enough to win. His mechanics are conducive to throwing strikes. He reminds of Cliff Lee every once in a while where you want him to get a little effectively wild, but he pounds the strike zone and paints the corners. Like I said, it wasn't his fastball that hurt him today."
The Phillies evened things in the sixth, but not before some controversy.
With the bases loaded, no out, and a lefty Brad Hand coming in to relieve starter Andrew Cashner, Mackanin pinch hit Darin Ruf for Ryan Howard. Ruf proceeded to swing at the first pitch and hit a towering fly to shallow left field. Shortstop Alexi Ramirez awkwardly drifted backwards in an attempt to make the play when third base umpire Will Little signaled an infield fly. Ultimately, the ball dropped between Ramirez and left fielder Myers, allowing Hernandez to score. Odubel Herrera, who was on second base when the ball dropped, reached third but was ruled out on a tag play. Mackanin protested the call, arguing Herrera was never touched, but the call on the field stood.
"Put it this way; I didn't like the call, but we had to live with it and get past it," Mackanin said. "It was explained to me in the umpire's judgement that the shortstop was under the ball. As I said, I didn't agree, but it is what it is."
Despite the sentimentality he spoke about last week, Mackanin admitted he didn't think twice about pinch-hitting Ruf for Howard.
"Well, I said I was going to do it and I did it," Mackanin said. "It was a big part of the game, but with a left-hander out there and the bases loaded with nobody out for Ruf I figured it was the perfect time to do it and blow the game wide open."
As for the game winning run, Nola cleanly fielded a suicide-squeeze attempt by Amarista about ten feet in front of home plate in the seventh, but elected to go the safe route and threw to first to record an out, allowing Derek Norris to score and ultimately give the Padres the victory.
"It's a tough play, I think I would have had to of made a perfect toss to the plate in that situation," Nola said. "I went the safe way to first to get an out."
Trailing by a run, Maikel Franco opened the ninth with a single, but Ruf hit into a double-play and Cameron Rupp grounded out to end the contest.
"We've had chances to win games," Mackanin said. "We've been in every game except one up to this point, so I'm pleased with that."
"It's really come down to a play here or a play there, or a pitch here or a pitch there," added Howard. "It's still early in the season, but I think the way we bounced back in New York and the way we fought back to today, it shows a lot."
Going back to Saturday's contest in New York and including Monday, the bullpen has now tossed seven scoreless innings and surrendered just two hits.
The two clubs resume their series on Tuesday night with Charlie Morton set to oppose Robbie Erlin. Rain, however, is in the forecast.
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