With a rebuild in full swing, one of the talented youngsters that the Phillies hope will lead them into the next era of winning, starting pitcher Aaron Nola, took time out of his spring training workout schedule to talk with us directly from Clearwater. The 22-year-old right-hander spoke about his new goal with the Phils after reaching the big leagues, learning from a veteran, compliments from his manager and plenty more. Read ahead for our exclusive interview with the team’s 2014 first round draft pick.
– What are your thoughts on where you are now versus where you were at this point last year?
I feel like I’m more prepared this year than I was last year. I think part of that was because (this year) I got off my first full season of pro ball and I kind of knew what the off-season was like after going through the first one. So, I knew what I needed to do workout wise. I knew what I needed to do pitching wise and conditioning wise. So, I feel like I’m in a better place now than I was last year.
– Is there anything specific that you would point out as being improved, like mechanics, repertoire or anything, when thinking about now and last spring?
Yeah, I feel like my stuff is a little bit better than it was last year at this time. Uh, but it’s not completely where I need it to be or where I want it to be. So, this spring training I’m going to focus on my arsenal and the pitches in there and my control. I feel like working and trying to get those pitches better is my main focus this spring training.
-I know a lot of people would already rave about your curve ball, so is it another offering that’s the focus there?
My change up. I’ve been working on my change up all off-season and I’m still continuing to work on it. That’s one pitch that I need solidly in my arsenal and I need it- it’s not where I want it to be right now, but that’s why I am going to continue to work on it. That’s a pitch that I really want to throw a lot more this year.
– Is there anybody so far that stands out in spring training as being a big help to with the improvements you’re looking to make? Or maybe into last season, is there anyone that has been a really big help to you?
There wasn’t one person in particular, there were a lot of guys, a lot of players. I would like to sit on the bench and pick their brains, just to get information from the veteran pitchers and from the veteran position players, because they were in my shoes at one point in their careers and they know what it’s like to go through what I went through and have some success, have some struggles. So, they gave me some help last year and I’ll continue to try to learn as much as possible.
We can always learn in baseball. You hear some guys, being veterans, say that they’re still learning. There’s so much to learn in the game of baseball, so that’s gonna be another one of my main focuses this spring training and throughout the year is to keep learning.
– I imagine, just based on his reputation that Carlos Ruiz would be among the guys that you took a lot from? What are your thoughts on Carlos?
The guy, he’s so smart! He’s caught four no-hitters in his career, I think that’s the number. He studies the game. He watches the game really closely when he’s not playing. I can just tell how well-rounded he is and how much of a role model he is and it’s great throwing to him and picking his brain because he’s done a lot, he’s seen a lot and he’s caught a lot. That’s one guy, one veteran that I feel like not just myself, but all of us try to learn from.
– Obviously, the widely used phrase for the state of the Phillies is rebuild mode. A lot of young talent, including you, are on the way up and already there and, I’m not sure if you think this far ahead, but, the team will have a lot of money to spend in the coming years. What can you share about your feelings on the direction the team is heading?
I think we’re headed in the right direction. Like you said, we have a lot of talent and we still have some good veterans on the team, guys that have a lot of experience in the major leagues that know how to go about it the right way and I feel like the chemistry we have is really good. We have great guys, the team- the clubhouse is great. So, going through spring training, getting the know these guys and play with them more and more is going to make things better.
– I read in recent days that Phils manager Pete Mackanin stated some really nice compliments about you, comparing you to Greg Maddux. What does it mean to you when your skipper has such a high level of confidence in your abilities?
It means a lot, you know, when a guy has that much confidence in me. It makes me go out there and compete even harder. But, at the end of the day it’s about going out there and giving it all I have on the mound and putting the team in the best chance of winning every time and competing the best that I can. And that’s all I can do. That’s my job right there…compete as hard as I can and the defense and the offense are gonna do great all the time, so doing my job is what I focus on doing and after that, being the best team player I can be (as well).
– Is there anyone you consider as your best friend in the organization or anyone you have built a really strong bond with to help each other to stay motivated and learn?
I mean, I feel like I’m pretty close with a couple guys, but I try to even things out and talk to a lot of guys as much as possible, but probably the closest guy is Adam Morgan, because we got up (to the majors) at a similar time. He got up there in Philly a month before me and I don’t think we had too many rookies then, so we kind of stuck together at that time and kind of learned from each other too, on the side of learning from the veterans and taking all that information in.
We have a lot of things in common…I have some mutual relationships with him, like my pitching coach in college actually played with his dad, so we got to talking about that. But, I feel like all that stuff, getting to be around each other when we were in Philly brought us closer, but (now) we have a lot more new guys, so I am going to form as many relationships as I can with those guys because we’re going to be around each other everyday and I think it’s going to be a good year with all the guys. I think we’re going to be pretty good together.
-I know you commented recently on the possibility of becoming the opening day starter. That could happen this year or a later season, but is that a goal of yours, to become the Phillies’ opening day starter?
Well, yes. It’s everybody’s goal and dream that hasn’t been one before, I feel like. Where ever I’m put during the season, I’ll be okay with. I’m going to go out there and approach it like every game, compete to the best of my ability and put the team in the best change to win and put myself in a change to win and play together and be a good team player.
-So, you feel that after a starting pitcher accomplishes his goal of reaching the big leagues, his next goal becomes being an opening day starter?
I feel like we all strive to be the best that we can, as a starting pitcher. But when you haven’t had the chance to be an opening day starter, when you get that chance, I feel like that would be a cool experience. But at the end of the day, where ever I’m put I’m going to go out and do the job as best as I can.