First of all, calm down. Sure, Aaron Nola was very, very impressive in his major-league debut. He pitched well enough to win, but, as usual, his offense scored enough to lose, and Nola and the Phillies fell to the Tampa Bay Rays 1-0 on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.
Nola’s line was even better than expected – six innings and just one earned run while striking out six and walking one. And Nola was as advertised – he didn’t overpower hitters, but at times he overwhelmed them with his control and change of speed and variety of pitches.
But it wasn’t just his statistics or even his execution that marked Nola’s first big-league start. Even more impressive was the poise and confidence he showed. He pitched out of jams and he didn’t get flustered by adversity – including giving up a home run to the opposing pitcher — or all the media and fan pressure that were heaped on him leading up to his first game in a major-league uniform.
That’s why, the next morning, talk radio hosts were drooling over Nola’s debut and predicting that Nola will be the ace of the future and, heck, he’s probably headed to the Hall of Fame. Of course, those same people would probably have buried Nola if he gave up nine runs and got knocked out of the game in the first inning, but that’s the nature of the business, which, after all, is entertainment.
More than anything, Nola represents hope for the future, and a few more victories today would be nice, too. Phillies fandom was spoiled by their dynamic teams of the not-so-distant past, and that makes sitting in last place even gloomier. But now, the organization and its fans see a little light. They see Nola as one of the foundation pieces for the future, along with third baseman Maikel Franco. The fans have focused on those two, more than any other young players in the organization, as the ones who will resurrect a once-proud franchise.
But neither of them has proven themselves on a regular basis over a period of time, although Franco is on the cusp of being an every-day All-Star. However, we shouldn’t forget that Nola has been in professional baseball for less than a year. Major-league batters haven’t faced Nola before and eventually they’ll get enough video tape and enough at-bats against him to figure out a game plan when he pitches against him. Big-league hitters (and hitting coaches) are smart that way.
So, we really won’t know how good Nola is until he goes through the league a few times and faces people like Bryce Harper and Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt and Adrian Gonzalez and Andrew McCutchen and Buster Posey multiple times. We’ve seen a million pitchers who dazzled at first and then never adjusted to the hitters after the hitters adjusted to them. And we just don’t know yet which way Aaron Nola will go.
By the way, we don’t mean to take the fun out of what has been one of the few enjoyable moments of this gloomy Phillies season. We would have taken that same wait-and-see approach if Nola was lit up in his first start. Just like one really good game doesn’t mean he’ll be a really good pitcher, a really bad game wouldn’t have meant that he’ll be a bust. Fans, and often times the media, have a knee-jerk reaction to what they just saw, and in this case what they saw was a masterful pitching exhibition by a 22-year-old kid who was playing in a big-league ballpark for the first time. Remember that this weekend if Nola gets hammered by the Chicago Cubs in his second start.
So, enjoy Aaron Nola and pull for the kid to live up to his potential. Tracking his progress not only gives Phillies fans hope, it also gives them a reason to tune in every once in a while. And the way this season has gone, that’s about all we can ask.