All eyes on Aaron Nola as he tests elbow in game competition

All eyes on Aaron Nola as he tests elbow in game competition

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."

MLB Notes: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

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MLB Notes: Twins-Braves, Royals-Padres make trades

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hoping to bolster their rotation for a playoff run, the Minnesota Twins have acquired veteran left-handed pitcher Jaime García, catcher Anthony Recker and cash considerations from the Atlanta Braves for minor league right-hander Huascar Ynoa.

The 31-year-old García is 66-52 with a 3.65 ERA and 808 strikeouts in 176 appearances, mostly with St. Louis (2008, 2010-16). He missed the 2009 MLB season following Tommy John surgery.

Garcia is 4-7 with a 4.30 ERA, 41 walks and 85 strikeouts in 18 starts for the Braves this year.

While Garcia's numbers don't jump off the page, the Twins were in need of a veteran arm to put into a rotation that has been largely disappointing behind the top two starters, Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios (see full story).

Royals: Cahill, Maurer, Buchter acquired from Padres
DETROIT -- The contending Kansas City Royals have acquired three pitchers from the San Diego Padres, getting starter Trevor Cahill, closer Brandon Maurer and reliever Ryan Buchter.

The Royals sent pitchers Matt Strahm and Travis Wood, minor league infielder Esteury Ruiz and cash to San Diego on Monday. The deal came one week before the nonwaiver trade deadline.

Kansas City began the day tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot and 1 1/2 games behind AL Central-leading Cleveland. The Royals had been looking to bolster their rotation and bullpen, and did it with one swap.

Cahill was 4-3 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 starts for the Padres. The 29-year-old right-hander was an All-Star with Oakland in 2010.

Maurer is 20-for-23 on save tries, and 1-4 with a 5.72 ERA. The 27-year-old righty began his big league career with Seattle in 2013 as a starter.

Buchter is 3-3 with one save and a 3.05 ERA in 42 games. The 30-year-old lefty pitched 67 times for the Padres last year.

Dodgers: Kershaw lost to DL with back injury
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw is headed to the disabled list for the second straight summer because of a back injury.

A year after missing 2 1/2 months with a herniated disk in his lower back, Kershaw was pulled from a start Sunday against Atlanta because of lower back tightness. The Los Angeles Dodgers ace exited after two innings in a 5-4, 10-inning victory.

It leaves baseball's top team without its best pitcher. The Dodgers lead the majors with a 68-31 record and are atop the NL West standings by 10 games.

Kershaw was set to meet with a back specialist Sunday evening for tests, although manager Dave Roberts was already sure that Kershaw would be placed on the 10-day DL (see full story).

Mets: Wheeler put on DL because of arm trouble
NEW YORK -- The New York Mets have put pitcher Zack Wheeler on the 10-day disabled list because of a stress reaction in his right arm.

The Mets didn't provide a timetable for Wheeler's return. He was on the DL last month with biceps tendinitis and has struggled in four starts since his return.

The team recalled righty Tyler Pill from Triple-A Las Vegas before Monday night's game at San Diego.

Wheeler joins Mets starting pitchers Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey and Robert Gsellman on the disabled list. Steven Matz and Seth Lugo recently came off the DL and returned to the rotation.

The 27-year-old Wheeler didn't pitch in the majors the past two years after having Tommy John surgery in 2015. He is 3-7 with a 5.21 ERA in 17 starts.

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams moves up to 3rd for hot-hitting Phillies

The hot-hitting Phillies made some minor tweaks to their lineup for Monday's series opener against the American League-beset Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park.

Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera and Tommy Joseph all move up in the lineup with Howie Kendrick getting the day off. Williams will hit third, Herrera moves up to fifth and Joseph will hit sixth. Andrew Knapp is catching and batting seventh. Cameron Perkins is playing left field and batting eighth.

Williams is hitting .309 with four home runs, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games since being called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on June 30. He had a two-run homer and another RBI in the Phillies' 6-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday afternoon.

After his 1 for 3 day with an RBI on Sunday, Herrera moves up spot. The centerfielder is hitting .331 with a major-league leading 19 doubles since June 3.

Joseph was 0 for 4 on Sunday with two strikeouts. He hit seventh against the Brewers but will hit sixth tonight.

Vince Velasquez (2-5, 5.14)  is on the mound for the Phillies. He'll be opposed by Brad Peacock (8-1, 2.49).

Here is the Phillies' full lineup:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Andrew Knapp, C
8. Cameron Perkins, LF
9. Vince Velasquez, SP

For more on tonight's game, read Corey Seidman's game notes.