8/6/2014 11:28 P.M. ET
Nola goes five solid in Double-A debut
Right-hander allows one run on six hits with four strikeouts in 72 pitches
By Erik Bacharach / MLB.com
READING, Pa. -- The Phillies made Aaron Nola the No. 7 selection of the 2014 First-Year Player Draft because of his projected ability to climb quickly through their system. On Wednesday night, the 21-year-old right-hander took the next step in his quest to join the big league rotation.
Nola made his debut for Double-A Reading at FirstEnergy Stadium after spending a little over a month with Class A Advanced Clearwater, where he went 2-3 with a 3.26 ERA and a 30/5 strikeout to walk ratio.
"It means a lot to me that the Phillies have confidence in me to move me up to Double-A," Nola said. "It's a fun atmosphere. It's fun to play here."
Nola went his scheduled five innings against the Harrisburg Senators on Wednesday night, allowing a run on six hits and a walk while striking out four. He used 72 pitches, 47 for strikes.
"Went OK for my first outing," Nola said. "Made a couple of mistakes. Left the ball over the plate on a couple and they capitalized on those mistakes. But other than that, I got the outs I needed. Got a couple double plays. It went well. I felt good."
Nola was fueled by crowds as large as 12,000 as an LSU Tiger, so the feeling of performing in front of the 7,202 in attendance on Wednesday struck a familiar chord.
"It felt good good to be out there in front of a bigger crowd again. I had that at LSU in a lot of starts," Nola said. "Getting back out in front of a big crowd, a good fanbase -- the Philly fanbase is really good -- I got a little bit of adrenaline in me going."
After throwing 116 1/3 innings with LSU earlier this year, Nola tossed 31 1/3 innings with Clearwater, hence his short leash coming into his stint with the Fightin Phils.
"My body's still healthy. I'm feeling good. I'm ready for this next month's stretch."
During his three years in college, Nola pitched once every seven days. The demands of a professional schedule will take some adjusting, but to this point, Nola has adapted well.
"I've been on a six-day rotation for about eight starts now," he said. "I think they're going to gradually move me into the five-man rotation and I'm okay with that. I'm ready for that five-man rotation."
Harrisburg only broke through against Nola in the third inning. A leadoff double translated into a run, but Nola did well to limit the damage. He whiffed a batter on an 80-mph breaking ball that started inside and crossed the plate on the outer corner, and froze the ensuing hitter with a 93-mph fastball to end the threat.
His fastball was sitting in the 92-94 mph range, and topped out at 96.
As a junior, the former LSU ace dominated some of college baseball's stiffest competition in the Southeastern Conference, compiling an 11-1 record in 16 starts with a 1.47 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 27 walks. He was considered by many scouts to be the most Major League-ready pitcher in the 2014 Draft, and the first few steps of his ascension through Philadelphia's system have panned out as envisioned.
"Double-A is a good test," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "With prospects there, the caliber of play. It's a stepping stone. We'll see how he adjusts to that, see how he performs. It'll be one of the first big tests for him."
Nola, who signed with the Phillies just five days after being drafted, said getting the formalities out of the way early was a top priority.
"That was one of my big things, for me, was sign early so I can get on a mound again quick," he said.
The early signing set in motion Philadelphia's plan of moving Nola through their system swiftly. With the makeup of Philly's 2015 rotation, as of this moment, laced with uncertainty, Nola could make an appearance in the Major League rotation at some point next season if he continues to progress at his current pace.
But for right now, the soft-spoken Nola is simply focusing on getting acclimated to his new teammates and surroundings. 2015 is still a ways away.
"Trying to take it day by day right now," Nola said. "I'm still in this season. Focusing on my starts here and finishing off the season strong."
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.