To no surprise, Phillies manager Joe Girardi officially named Aaron Nola the starter for the season opener on April 1 against the Atlanta Braves on Monday. Zack Wheeler was also named the starter for the second game of the 2021 campaign. Nola will also start Monday night’s spring training game against the Yankees in Tampa.
“Aaron probably knew it anyway,” Girardi said on Monday, “just the way everything aligns. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when you start getting in your rotation how it lines up.”
Nola will become the first Phillies pitcher since Steve Carlton to start on Opening Day for four consecutive seasons. He sees the nod as an honor but recognizes that it’s only one game out of 162.
“After that day, there’s a lot more starts left,” Nola said earlier this month. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
The 27-year-old will be entering his seventh season in red pinstripes and while it still seems like his career is fairly young, he is already well on his way to establishing himself among the upper echelon of Phillies pitchers in the history of the franchise.
He has yet to eclipse 1,000 innings pitched in his career, but Nola is 11th on the all-time Phillies strikeout list. This year, he can easily eclipse Randy Wolf (971), Brett Myers (986) and probably Curt Simmons (1,052). Among Phillies pitchers who have thrown at least 827 innings in their Phillies career, Nola is first in K% (26.6%) and eighth in ERA+ (123), ahead of Carlton. Nola also ranks 15th in fWAR among all Phillies pitchers. The only Phillie to throw fewer innings than Nola and accumulate more fWAR in their career in red pinstripes is Cliff Lee (21.9 fWAR in 827 1/3 innings).
Nola is signed through 2022 with an affordable club option for 2023. 2021 certainly won’t be his last Opening Day with the club and while he’ll never eclipse Carlton in strikeouts or WAR, playoffs or not, he should be considered among the very best pitchers to ever take the mound for the Phillies if all goes well.
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