Before the 2022 season, there was a book on Aaron Nola in the minds of Philadelphia Phillies opponents. Be patient at the plate and let Nola miss the strike zone, especially in the later stages of the season.
The plan worked … until this year. Now, with Nola scheduled to start Game 1 of the World Series on Friday night for the Philadelphia Phillies, the 29-year-old right-hander is ready to continue his transformation from late-season question mark to October ace.
What has changed for Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola in 2022
Throughout his career, Nola has always struggled in September and October starts, watching his ERA jump from July’s 3.10 (32 career starts) and August’s 3.11 (38 career starts) to September/October’s ugly 4.26 ERA (39 career starts). WHIP also climbed from 1.023 in July to 1.237 in September/October.
While the late-season struggles have been a focus and frustration for Phillies fans, it was the walks throughout the campaign that proved to be a big issue for Nola when he was on the mound. Prior to this season, his walks per nine innings in 171 starts (beginning in the 2015 season) was 2.6. This season, that plummeted to a National League-low 1.3.
Additionally, Nola’s strikeout-to-walk ratio of 8.10 was the best among all MLB pitchers.
“I know in 2019, I had 80 walks I believe. And that’s obviously been the highest of my career. To me, it’s honestly unacceptable,” Nola said in St. Louis before the Wild Card round began. “That’s just too many free passes on the base pads, and every spring training I go in and obviously work on that.
“This year, I really wanted to give myself a chance. Sometimes just challenge them [hitters] in the zone. Obviously don’t give them a cookie on the 3-0, 3-1, 3-2 pitch. But wanted to challenge them and not try to give them any free passes.”
The plan worked for Nola, and not only helped propel the Phillies forward, but also change the narrative on Nola as well.
In September with the Phillies fighting for the postseason, Nola logged a 2.93 (his second-best month of the season) ERA in five starts where he walked just seven while striking out 36 in 27.2 innings. On October 3 in Houston, Nola blanked the Astros on two hits over 6.2 innings as Philadelphia officially clinched their spot in the postseason. He followed that with 12.2 frames in his first two postseason starts where he didn’t allow an earned run, striking out 12 while walking just three.
Home runs short-circuited Nola’s last start against the Padres on October 19, but Philadelphia manager Rob Thomson is handing him the ball for Game 1 of the World Series with plenty of confidence that the changes that helped rewrite the late-season narrative on Nola and the Phillies will show themselves again in Houston.