CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola has passed all the tests so far.
Now they start getting a little tougher.
The 23-year-old right-hander is set to make his first start of the spring when he opposes a heavy-hitting Toronto Blue Jays team on Thursday afternoon in Dunedin.
It will be Nola's first start since July 28 in Atlanta when he went to the sidelines with an elbow injury.
Nola began last season with a 2.65 ERA in his first 12 starts. Batters hit just .212 with a .252 on-base percentage over that span.
But over his next eight starts, his ERA was 9.82 and batters hit .367 and had a .435 on-base percentage.
Nola has maintained that he did not start feeling pain in the elbow until his final start. He ultimately was diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and a strained flexor tendon. The injury was treated with rest, rehab and a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection. During the offseason, Nola completed all the progressions in his throwing program and has been under no limits thus far in spring training.
But he has yet to face a hitter in a competitive situation, and with that will come a bump in intensity and a stiffer test for his elbow.
That will happen Thursday and every fifth day throughout the rest of camp and into the regular season.
Nola is ready for it.
"I'm excited," he said. "It's been seven months. My bullpens have been good. My live BPs (batting practice) have been good. I feel good, really good lately. I'm ready to finally get in a game in a competitive situation and face live hitters."
Nola is scheduled to pitch two innings, the customary starting point for a starting pitcher in his first outing of the spring.
The pitcher expects to feel some butterflies before the outing but said the feeling would not be health-related. He's confident he's 100 percent healthy.
"If you don't get some butterflies, I think you get complacent," he said. "All pitchers get them. I'm sure there will be a little bit, but that's just normal."
Nola has been throwing all his pitches and expects to use them all Thursday. Command will be his objective.
"Fill up the zone, get ahead of hitters, that's my main focus," he said. "Don't fall behind. Get ahead early."
Manager Pete Mackanin will be looking for these same things from Nola.
But he'll also be looking for good health. Mackanin knows how important Nola is to this Phillies season and the team's long-term success. Over the winter, Mackanin admitted to holding his breath just a little when it comes to the pitcher's health.
"I'm very eager to see him," Mackanin said on Wednesday. "I was eager to see (Vince) Velasquez (on Wednesday) (see story) and now I'm more eager to see Nola. I know he feels 100 percent. Let's see what he looks like. I think he's going to be fine. The key for him will be when we get into June, July and August, if he's going to hold up. That's the only concern I have. Not that I don't think he will, but that's the only thing in the back of my mind. I don't foresee issues early."