HARRISBURG, Pa. — There are 12 teams in the Double A Eastern League, which means it doesn’t take very long to get to know the opposition. For first-round draft pick Aaron Nola, in just his second start for Reading, a bit of his repertoire isn’t much of a secret.
Facing the Nationals' affiliate, Harrisburg, for a second time in two outings, Nola didn’t offer any surprises to the hitters on Wednesday at Metro Bank Park. Like the mayflies that take over the ballpark nestled on City Island in the middle of the Susquehanna River, everyone knew what was coming.
Nola just couldn’t do anything about it.
“You learn a lot in this game,” Nola said after his second start for Reading. “It’s very humbling and the best way to learn is by your mistakes and looking back on your mistakes and try not to make the same one the next time you go out.”
In just four innings, the 21-year-old righty allowed three runs on six hits and a walk with just a pair of strikeouts. Most notably, Nola allowed three solo homers, including a pair of back-to-back blasts in the second inning of Reading’s 8-4 victory.
Compared to his first outing against Harrisburg at First Energy Stadium in Reading on Aug. 6, Nola wasn’t so sharp. In that first game, Nola pitched his Phillies-mandated maximum of five innings when he allowed a run on six hits and one walk with four strikeouts. He needed 72 pitches and threw 13 first-pitch strikes to 20 hitters in that first outing compared to 78 pitches and 13 first-pitch strikes to 19 hitters on Wednesday night.
Was Harrisburg, with the second-worst batting average in the league, ready for Nola?
“I had my advantages and they had their advantages, but in the end I made some bad pitches,” Nola said with a shrug. “The first home run it was a fastball that leaked out over the plate and the second one was a fastball belt high.”
Of course it wasn’t like Nola was stinking up the joint. Aside from the solo homers, Nola allowed just one runner to get to second base. That came in the fourth inning when the righty issued a leadoff walk followed by a single to center. But with two on and two outs, Nola got a strikeout, an infield pop up and a fly out to shallow center to escape.
With a pair of two-out singles in the second and third innings, Nola’s only trouble was with the long ball.
“Never,” Nola said when asked if he had ever allowed three homers in a game.
“Obviously I didn’t have everything I usually have,” Nola said. “You’re not going to go out every time and have all your best stuff. Sometimes you might have one pitch or two pitches that day and you have to learn how to pitch without your A-Game. I’m learning how to do that and it’s a process.
“No matter how long my career goes, until the very end, I’m going to have to keep learning how to pitch without an A-Game and make good pitches when I’m not feeling my best.”
Perhaps Nola is prone to the long ball? With three allowed on Wednesday coupled with four homers allowed in seven games (31 1/3 innings) for Single A Clearwater and four more in 16 games at LSU, Nola has given up 11 homers in 156 2/3 innings over 24 games this season.
As a point of comparison, Giants right-handed starter Tim Hudson has allowed 11 homers this season in 150 1/3 innings over 23 games. Hudson, in his 16th big-league season, also pitched in the All-Star Game for the fourth time this year.
Maybe the homer stats aren’t the only place where the comparisons between Nola and Hudson end. Like the big-league veteran, Nola’s fastball tops out in the mid-90s with it reaching a high of 94-mph in Wednesday’s start.
And like Hudson, Nola also throws a changeup, a curve and keeps the ball down low in the strike zone. The result of that type of pitching repertoire is few walks and lots of balls hit in the infield.
That is as long as the pitch stays low. Like Hudson, Nola isn’t overpowering. But both guys know how to pitch. If Nola is speeding to the big leagues for the Phillies, the acumen and assault on the low part of the strike zone will serve him well.
Still, the comparison to Hudson is one Nola has heard before. Needless to say, he's OK with it.
“I heard that before, the first time was in Philly,” Nola said about the comparison to Hudson. “He’s a great guy to be compared to. Some of us try to model ourselves after other pitchers -- borrow things and put them all together for yourself.”
Nola will have three more starts this season for Reading, he said. After that, he can close the book on a pretty eventful 2014.