Aaron Nola has never been the Phillies’ opening day starter. It’s crazy, but true. He was drafted in 2014, made his major league debut in mid 2015, and in 2016 & 2017, he played second fiddle to Jeremy Hellickson. (Remember him?! Seems like a million years ago.) It wasn’t a sign of disrespect — it was usually to engineer Nola as the starter for the home opener. And as the undisputed staff ace, it was only a matter of time before he would be The One.
The time has come.
Gabe Kapler makes it official: Aaron Nola will be Opening Day starter.— Todd Zolecki (@ToddZolecki) February 25, 2018
The rebuild (or at least part of it) has been resting on his young shoulders for some time now. And we’re finally at the point when he has been given the symbolic position at the start of the season, throwing the Phillies’ first meaningful pitch of 2018.
There were no other options, really, but that shouldn’t lessen the great HONOR and RESPONSIBILITY he now has. THIS IS IMPORTANT, AARON. EVERYTHING IS RIDING ON YOU.
Okay, not really. It’s completely symbolic. And if the Phillies had actually signed another starting pitcher, which they have yet to do, maybe there would be a little more “drama” surrounding this. It’s hard to imagine signing a pitcher like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish (sigh), or trading for Gerrit Cole, and having any of them start behind Nola. But the only pitcher still out there who could conceivably start ahead of Nola is Arrieta, and it doesn’t seem like the Phillies are terribly interested in him right now.
Nola’s ready for this. Maybe not right at this second, but he will be. And he looks pretty good already.
Aaron Nola's 3 strikeouts from today's game - Curveball, Fastball, Curveball pic.twitter.com/coDNdVKt9T— Pitcher List (@PitcherList) February 25, 2018
And beyond just this spring training, Nola is definitely ready for this. He hit the disabled list just once in 2017, and for a relatively short time, a major upgrade over his 2016 (which, if you remember, ended early due to injury). In 2017, he earned a 3. 54 ERA from 27 starts (his most in the majors) and 168 innings (also a career high). He walked just 49 and struck out 184. From mid June to mid August, he pitched 10 starts and gave up two or less runs in all of them (good for a 1.71 ERA). We know how brilliant he can be. He’s improved every year, and maybe this is the year he can make the leap and sustain that brilliance for even longer.
Now all we need is for the regular season to get here.