Aaron Nola to be Phillies' opening day starter

Aaron Nola named Phillies Opening Day Starter
IIt was fairly obvious, but manager Gabe Kapler made it official on Sunday. Aaron Nola will be the Phillies Opening Day starter come next month.

"Barring anything crazy happening, he's our guy. He is the man," Kapler said after Nola pitched two innings in his spring-training debut Sunday, an 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees.

Nola surrendered three runs on Sunday over two innings, falling victim to a Maikel Franco dropped pop-up that extended an inning. He threw 31 pitches, allowing four hits. He struck out three and walked none.

"You can see that thing take a sharp left turn out of his hand,” Kapler said of Nola's curveball.

Nola, 24, will be the franchise's youngest Opening Day starter since Dennis Bennett in 1964. He finished 12-11 with a 3.54 ERA last season. He struck out 184 batters in 168 innings, averaging 9.86 strikeouts per nine innings. It is the third-best mark in Phillies history.

Nola has an outstanding fastball and his velocity ticked up as the season progressed last year, averaging 92.4 mph. He also elicited significantly more swings-and-misses on his changeup last year than the year before. He's young and improving, a dangerous combination for hitters across the National League.

Kapler views Nola on the same pedestal as some of today's great hurlers such as Max Scherzer and Zach Greinke, and he's amazed when fans and pundits overlook him.

“If you just got back to last year and just look at his performance, it lines up very nicely with the Scherzers of the world and is not far off the Greinke line,” Kapler said. “We consider Max Scherzer an ace, and we’re strictly looking at the performance, then we should also consider Aaron Nola an ace. From a character and make-up perspective, he’s not lacking anything. He’s not lacking any stuff. This guy is a real, real stud, a grinder, and someone we can depend on.”

If healthy, Nola has all the makings of becoming a breakout star this season.

"Everybody still thinks we're in the rebuilding stage, but I don't think anyone in here doesn't think we're going to compete this year," Nola said. "We're definitely going to be better than last year."

Injury Update
Will Middlebrooks was diagnosed with a fractured left fibula and is expected to have surgery following a collision on Saturday with Andrew Pullin.

"Injuries have been my kryptonite the last few years," Middlebrooks said. "Majors injuries, nagging stuff. I definitely had a different mindset coming into this camp. I'm disappointed because there's really something special brewing in this clubhouse with this group of guys. I don't know if it's going to be this year or next year or whenever -- we're going to be really, really good."

Middlebrooks entered camp as a non-roster invitee. He's played parts of six seasons with the Red Sox, Padres, Brewers, and Rangers

The 29-year-old is facing an uphill battle to return to the diamond, but he's never been one to call it quits.

"I'd be lying if I said it didn't cross my mind. But the small window of time I've spent here with this staff and training staff, I think I'll be just fine. If it takes two months, if it takes four or five months, I don't know how long it's going to take yet. I'm not counting myself out. I plan on playing this year."

Up Next
Ben Lively will start for the Phillies on Monday night at the club travels to Tampa Bay to face the Yankees. The 25-year-old finished his rookie campaign with a 4.26 ERA and 52/24 K/BB ratio in 88 2/3 innings over 15 starts. He's in the competition to land a spot in the starting rotation.
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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