On Easter Sunday, Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola took time out of his busy spring schedule to chat with PN’s Jay Floyd.
In four Grapefruit League starts, Nola has a 1-1 record with a 5.28 ERA with 12 strike outs and four walks in 15 1/3 innings. He also tossed 5 1/3 solid innings in a minor league game on Saturday, allowing five hits while striking out seven and walking two.
In this interview, Nola talked abouthow he has progressed through spring training, falling in line to start the team’s home opener on Monday, April 11th, how he celebrated the holiday and plenty more.
-Happy Easter! Were you or the team able to do anything special for Easter?
I just went to eat, but I mean, I guess a couple guys on the team will do something special, but I have family in town, so we just went out to eat by the beach.
-That’s great. I know your family came up to Philadelphia to see you debut last year and they follow you as closely as they can. What does it mean to you to have them there and have them come out to spring training?
It’s awesome, man. I love when they come out, because I don’t get to see them that much. My parents came to Florida last week. First they went to see my brother (Marlins minor league infielder Austin Nola) in Jupiter and then they came to see me and we both love it. We love seeing them as much as we can. And we spend all off-season with them too.
-You started Saturday’s minor league game. Some times a starter might get bumped to the minor league contest to avoid facing a team you’d face during the season, to avoid giving their batters more exposure to the pitcher’s stuff. With the Phils facing an A.L. team that doesn’t factor into the regular season schedule, what’s the reasoning for moving you off the big league game over the weekend?
I think it’s to get my innings in and get my pitch count up, I think was the main focus and I got my pitch count up to where it needed to be. And I think it let all of the bullpen guys get their work in too.
–You and I spoke about a month ago about your goal to one day be an opening day starter and right now you’re lined up to start the home opener, with Jeremy Hellickson starting the regular season opener on the road. What does it mean to you to be able to kick off the home schedule for the Phillies?
It’s exciting, it really is! But I mean, Jeremy- he earned that spot. He’s had some good years in the major leagues and he knows what he’s doing on the mound. And he’s a hard worker and he’s a big time competitor. He’s a great guy on the side too.
So, you know, we’re all just excited to get out on the field again, during the regular season and get things started off.
-You got plenty of exposure to Philadelphia fans last year. What stands out to you about the crowds there at Citizens Bank Park?
They’re real passionate. They’re great fans. They give us great support. From what I’ve heard, opening day and right when we get the season started, it’s incredible. I haven’t experienced it yet, but I’ve heard great things. But they’re passionate fans. They watch a lot of baseball and they know the game.
-You talked about Hellickson there a little bit…with the group of starters and the guys competing to land those jobs, are you all able to learn from and teach one another?
Absolutely. Mainly for myself, being a younger guy, I feel like I can learn from the older guys. There are a lot of guys in the clubhouse that have a lot more time than I have at this level and I’m still continuing to learn from them. And not just the older guys…I can learn from the guys that are my age too. I learn from everybody, watching the guys pitch and watching the guys hit. Just talking to them and picking their brains.
-With the team playing so well this spring, everyone seems upbeat and there’s probably a lot of fun being had. How would you describe how everyone is getting along? Do you guys look out for each other and push each other?
Yeah, for sure! I feel like that’s what a team should be and we have great chemistry on this team so far. And I feel like at the start of spring training, that came together well. With having a bunch of new guys, we have a lot in common. There are so many new faces this year and I feel like we’ve bonded well together and we’ve played as a team in spring training. I feel like we’re going to continue playing as a team.
-I saw someone, a fan, referring to you online in the past several days, laying a nickname upon you, based on your last name, calling you “The Big Easy”. Do you have any preferred nickname at all?
(Laughs) I don’t.
-Had you heard that one directed at you before?
I had not heard that one. That’s funny.
-If that stuck, would that be cool?
Uh, I don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me. People are gonna call you what they want to call you.
-Alright. Understood. I recall we spoke with you early last season for the TV show and you spoke about your first big league start in spring training and how it was remarkable for you to strike out A-Rod and Carlos Beltran. Now that you’re officially a big leaguer yourself, do you still have those cool challenges you look forward to?
Not really. After facing those guys for the first time, pitching in my first big league game, last spring training against the Yankees, I felt like once I got past those guys, the big name guys, the guys you grow up always watching on TV, I feel like they’re trying to beat you and you’re trying to beat them. You’re competing against one another. So, I kinda look past that now and look at it as, “This is baseball and I’m trying to get you out no matter who you are.”
-Maybe I’m jumping to my own conclusion, but is it a safe translation to take away that now that you’re a big leaguer, you don’t have those dreams of facing big leaguers because YOU are a big leaguer now too?
Yeah. I mean, we grow up dreaming that, “I hope I face this guy one day” and “I hope I face this guy too.” But, you know, when it finally happens, it’s pretty cool. You’re on the same field and you’re 60 feet, six inches away from a guy that you grew up watching, but in the back of your head, it’s just a game and you’re trying to get them out.
-You went a few starts this spring before locking down your first win. Was there any pressure to notch that win, or were you simply getting your work in without much focus on that sort of result?
I mean, I just needed to get a little more comfortable with my body and get it in sync. I needed to get on the mound more and I felt like that’s how it always is. I need to get on the mound as much as I can and familiarize myself again and remember what I can do again.