Joe Girardi hasn’t said anything for sure, but barring something unforeseen, Aaron Nola will get the ball for the Philadelphia Phillies on April 1, when they welcome the Atlanta Braves to town for the 2021 season opener.
With that start, Nola would become the first Phillies starter since Hall of Famer Steve Carlton to toe the rubber on four consecutive opening days.
“That would be cool, I didn’t know that,” Nola admitted earlier this week. “Yeah, that would be pretty cool. Opening Day is always an honor, to open the season out on the mound. It’s one day, but obviously it’s an honor. But after that day, there’s a lot more starts left. It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint. But it would definitely be cool, it would be an honor.”
Between 1977 and 1986, the aforementioned Carlton made 10 consecutive Opening Day starts for the Phillies. Since that time, no Phillies starter has made more than three in a row. Terry Mulholland, Curt Schilling, Brett Myers and Roy Halladay all made three in a row, but never four. Schilling made five total Opening Day starts for the Phillies, but Sid Fernandez got the ball on Opening Day in 1996. Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee combined for just three total Opening Day starts, largely because they were part of such dominant rotations.
Nola made his first Opening Day start for the Phillies in 2018, when then-manager Gabe Kapler infamously pulled him after just 68 pitches. 2021 would mark the third time in four years that Nola opens the season against the Braves. In total, he has a 3.24 ERA in his first three Opening Day starts.
Now 27, Nola is perhaps an insurmountable amount of years away from matching Carlton for most total opening day starts. Carlton got the ball for the Phillies on Opening Day in 14 different seasons. If Nola spends his entire career with the Phillies, it’s not impossible that he could approach that amount, though that type of longevity shouldn’t be taken for granted.
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