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Aaron Nola’s struggles and three other early Phillies trends to watch


Aaron Nola has a 6.75 ERA so far in 2022. (Cheryl Pursell)

In Wednesday afternoon’s game against the division rival New York Mets, the Phillies loaded the bases with one out against Mets starter Max Scherzer to start the bottom of the first. They failed to score a run.

This might have come to a surprise to anyone looking at the Phillies roster on paper. But, after scoring nine runs on Opening Day, the team had scored in just four of 35 innings entering the day.

The Phillies lineup did go on to score six runs on the day, but the general struggles following Opening Day’s offensive onslaught are certainly notable.

More on some of the individual struggles that are contributing to the lack of scoring, and three other trends to keep an eye on following the first homestand of the Phillies season:

Kyle Schwarber’s and Bryce Harper’s struggles setting the tone

In the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game, Harper hit an opposite field home run that hit the base of the foul pole. It marked Harper’s first home run of the season, and his first extra-base hit since Opening Day.

Schwarber, meanwhile, has gone ice cold since starting the Phillies season with a bang. In his last 18 at-bats, Schwarber has zero hits and eight strikeouts. This culminated in a tough day at the plate on Wednesday, in which he struck out three times in an 0-for-4 outing.

The Phillies lineup is deep enough that it will be able to survive cold stretches from its biggest bats. But the combined struggles of Schwarber and Harper — combined with a mediocre season thus far from two-hole hitter J.T. Realmuto, who is just 5-for-21 — has set a poor tone for what, on paper, is set up to be one of the most potent offenses in baseball.

This is not a team that will survive a sustained cold stretch from Harper, its biggest star. But the two-time MVP has given no reason to believe a streak like this will continue much longer.

As for Schwarber, a player of his caliber will see cold streaks. But he is also a guy who can put a team on his back for an entire month (see: June 2021). There are plenty of concerns to be had about this roster. Right now, the lineup should not be one unless the struggles from its biggest bats continue.

Aaron Nola looks… the same

In 2018, Aaron Nola was one of the three best pitchers in the National League. It’s a high standard that has been set for him entering every season since. But it isn’t one he has been able to come close to meeting.

In his final 25 starts of an inconsistent 2021 season, Nola pitched to a 5.19 ERA.

Not all of these starts followed the same formula. Some of them featured an easy first two times through the order, followed by a meltdown in the sixth or seventh inning. Some featured an immediate lack of command that pushed him out of the game early. And occasionally, Nola still shined for entire starts at a time, flashing the ceiling he showed in that 2018 season.

So far, Nola has struggled in both starts — in two different ways. On Opening Day, Nola cruised through six innings, allowing just one run on a solo home run to Chad Pinder. But Nola struggled in the seventh, allowing two baserunners to start the frame before allowing a three-run home run.

On Wednesday, Nola struggled from the get-go. He walked the first batter of the game, and had trouble throwing strikes the entire game. Ultimately, Nola allowed three runs and could have allowed more, if not for a Seranthony Dominguez-induced double play ball to end the fourth inning (more on Dominguez later).

Nola has a 6.75 ERA through two games to start the 2022 season, and that figure is almost certain to come down. But while he will occasionally flash brilliance, it is time to acknowledge that he may be less of an ace, and more of a plus-potential, middle-of-the-rotation starter.

Seranthony Dominguez is healthy and effective

Since Seranthony Dominguez went down with a UCL injury in June 2019, the Phillies bullpen has struggled endlessly. In a shortened 2020 season, they had one of the highest bullpen ERAs in baseball history. And in 2021, they set a franchise record for blown saves.

But, after years that were consumed by rehab assignments, setbacks, pandemic-related delays in getting Tommy John surgery, the surgery itself and more rehab assignments, Dominguez is back in a Phillies uniform, and he is getting hitters out.

In three appearances, Dominguez has allowed one earned run on three hits in 3 2/3 innings. He has given up some hard hit balls — including Pete Alonso’s RBI double in Wednesday’s game — but is clearly still a plus-option out of a bullpen with uncertain expectations.

His velocity is not where it was in 2018, when Dominguez pitched to a 2.95 ERA across 53 appearances in a shining rookie season. But, he is hitting 98 on the radar gun, and his two best pitches – a fastball that features plenty of cut, and a hard slider, both again appear to be plus-pitches.

Dominguez’s effectiveness is one thing, but in order for it to matter, he also needs to stay healthy. Former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler rode the now 27-year-old’s arm quite a bit in that 2018 season, and continuing to pitch him in half of the team’s games is not a recipe for avoiding injury again.

But for now Dominguez is healthy, effective, and has the ability to swing the Phillies bullpen in a positive direction

The Stott/Camargo/Bohm platoon is working (at the plate)

Six games into the season, it is clear that Joe Girardi and the Phillies are going to give at-bats to the trio of Johan Camargo, Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott.

So far, Stott has led the way in terms of starts — he has gotten four, while Camargo has three and Bohm two. The trio has combined to go 12-for-29 with four walks and only six strikeouts.

It is unclear whether time will continue to be split between the three infielders. Injuries could certainly change this — Jean Segura’s hit-by-pitch scare in Wednesday’s game was a reminder of that. Maybe struggles by any of the three, or shortstop Didi Gregorius, who is just 3-for-19, will force a change.

The Phillies defense is a separate discussion, because whenever Alec Bohm and Didi Gregorius are on the field, it is one of the worst in baseball. But, as it stands now, the Phillies are getting offensive production from that spot, no matter who fills it.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Steve

    April 14, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    This is Nola’s last contract year
    The club holds the 2023 option
    year for 17 million. If he does
    not fix the problem you can look
    for him to be moved at the deadline
    Remember it’s a performance business

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