According to his agent, Aaron Nola is back to “one hundred percent” and ready to ignite his off-season training program, giving us an opportunity to use an image of him other than the one in which he’s resting his head against the dugout wall with his eyes closed, probably frustrated by the 60-day DL trip he had just been assigned.
It was August 17 when the 23-year-old emerged from the office of Dr. James Andrews, a gaping maw on the side of a mountain with fang-like formations at its mouth. Andrews had administered a plasma injection and told Nola he could skip the operating table, for now, before sending him on his way. While making his hazardous descent, Nola had plenty of time to consider the UCL and flexor strains in his right arm, both of them labeled “low grade,” but enough to end his season.
So much of the development of the young Phillies pitching staff this season can be indicated by the amount of innings they spent on the actual mound. Nola made twenty starts before his last appearance on July 28, though the last time he pitched more than six innings had been May 20. His brilliance at every level of the minor league system flashed occasionally in the big leagues; for instance, when he threw a couple of seven-inning starts with limited earned runs, or when he debuted in July 2015 and lost a game because the only run he allowed, a home run to an AL pitcher, had been too much for the Phillies offense to overcome. His 2.65 ERA this season had been encouraging until June 5, when he started a string of four starts in a row of less than four innings, and only broke it almost a month later by lasting five innings against the Royals.
After spending October in Florida on a Phillies-designed throwing program, Nola will begin baseball’s off-season reportedly back on the level at which he started. It’s a promising advancement of the plot for the kid who got his first career win the day after Cole Hamels’ final Phillies start. As with all recoveries, we won’t know until he’s pitching whether “one hundred percent” means what we’ve seen before, or some redefinition brought on by his health issues. Either way, it’s the best possible outcome for November baseball news regarding an injured player not in the post season.