Another gem for Aaron Nola, but Joaquin Benoit, Phillies suffer late loss to Brewers

Another gem for Aaron Nola, but Joaquin Benoit, Phillies suffer late loss to Brewers

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MILWAUKEE -- As the Phillies move into the second half of this rebuilding season, their focus — aside from winning games — is identifying building blocks for the future.

And it looks like they may have found a big one in their starting rotation.

Aaron Nola pitched a gem Saturday night, holding the NL Central-leading Brewers to two runs on seven hits and a pair of walks while striking out seven over six innings in the Phillies' 3-2 loss (see Instant Replay). His strong work was undone in the eighth inning when Joaquin Benoit served up a homer to Travis Shaw the broke a 2-2 tie. Benoit picked up the loss.

"You hold this team to two runs over six innings, you've done a good job," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said of Nola. 

Nola missed a chance to improve to 3-0 lifetime against Milwaukee by serving up a game-tying home run to Hernan Perez in his final inning but has left an impression over his last five outings, going 3-1 with a 1.78 ERA during that stretch.

"Just getting ahead in the count and getting the leadoff hitter out has been key for me," Nola said. "Those are the biggest thing that takes stress off you each inning. Tonight, I let some leadoff guys on and didn't get strike one enough."

A first-round pick of the Phillies (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft, Nola made a strong impression as a rookie, going 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts in 2015. He made 20 starts for the team last season and went 6-9 but saw his ERA jump to 4.78 thanks to a rough six-week stretch during which he went 0-4 with a 13.50 mark in five starts.

A sprained ulnar collateral ligament combined with a mild flexor strain in his pitching elbow brought his season to an end in late July and after a rough spring training this season (0-3, 8.38 ERA), he took the victory in two of his first three starts before hitting another rough patch that saw him go 1-5 with a 4.89 ERA over his next six outings.

He's bounced back in a big way since.

"I'm really happy for him and for us because he really turned it around," Mackanin said. "When he started off in the big leagues, he looked like a really good find. Then he went through that period when he was searching. He had the arm issue, the command issue then he got out of it and now he's better than ever. That's a real bonus."

Mackanin looks at Nola and the way he worked through adversity early in his career as an example the rest of the young players on his roster can learn from as they continue their development.

"Just because you start off real good doesn't mean it's going to continue," he said. "You have to battle through any issues you have, which he did, and now he's learned and gone through that process and is better for it. That's what everybody has to do. (Nick) Pivetta's gotta do it, (Ben) Lively's gotta do it. They all have to do it. Even the hitters."

The Phillies have had some top-notch talent anchoring its rotation over the last decade. Nola isn't quite at the level of Cole Hamels or Roy Halliday just yet, but he's showing signs that he could get to that point in the not-so-distant future.

"I try to do everything I can to win every time I go out there," Nola said. "I do every thing I can to keep the ball low, give up the least runs I can and just battle. I'm going to battle my butt off every time I go out there and give them a chance to win."

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford sit vs. lefty

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Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford sit vs. lefty

With the Phillies facing lefty Alex Wood tonight, Tommy Joseph gets a rare start at first base.

It's Joseph's third start in the Phillies' last 12 games. He's become a forgotten man with the Phils' outfield fully healthy and Rhys Hoskins thriving at first base.

Pete Mackanin is using the matchup with a southpaw as a reason to get Joseph in the mix. Joseph has actually been dreadful this season against lefties, hitting just .197/.272/.410 in 135 plate appearances.

J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams have the night off.

Andrew Knapp is behind the plate to catch his second game since returning from a six-week DL stint.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Tommy Joseph, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Jake Thompson, P

Phillies-Dodgers thoughts: Rhys Hoskins refuses to go into a slump

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Phillies-Dodgers thoughts: Rhys Hoskins refuses to go into a slump

Phillies (60-91) vs. Dodgers (96-55)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Well, this series hasn't gone as planned.

Despite facing Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish, the Phillies have beaten the Dodgers on back-to-back nights to force at least a split. 

For L.A., it continues a miserable four-week stretch. The Dodgers were 91-36 on Aug. 25 and have gone 4-19 since.

The Phillies, meanwhile, are 31-33 since the All-Star break and 17-14 since Aug. 6.

More on tonight's game and the series in general:

• Last night was yet another fantastic game for Rhys Hoskins, who hit the game-deciding three-run double, drove in four runs in all and reached base three times. 

It appeared Hoskins was going into a slump after he went 0 for 11 with six strikeouts against the Athletics this past weekend, but he's responded by reaching base in five of seven plate appearances against the Dodgers. 

Through 39 games, Hoskins has hit .299/.428/.739 with five doubles, 18 homers and 43 RBIs. He has 29 walks and 33 strikeouts.

Odubel Herrera hit his 40th double of the season last night, becoming the first Phillie since Jayson Werth in 2010 to reach 40. 

The Phils had just one player hit 40 doubles in 2008 (Chase Utley), 2009 (Jimmy Rollins) and 2010 (Werth) and then none from 2011-16.

• Another scoreless inning last night from Luis Garcia, who's allowed one run in his last 18 appearances and has a 2.43 ERA in 61 games.

Nick Williams picked up his 11th infield single of the season last night. That kind of speed will allow him to maintain a higher batting average on balls in play than most players (see story).

• The Phillies face left-hander Alex Wood, who's had a career year. Wood is 15-3 with a 2.69 ERA in 140⅓ innings this season, with 144 strikeouts, 37 walks and just 13 home runs allowed. 

Lefties and righties alike have struggled against Wood, but he's been much more hittable since the All-Star break. Wood had a 1.56 ERA in the first half and has a 4.07 ERA since.

In his last start, Wood shut out the Nationals over six innings with eight strikeouts. In his previous three starts, he allowed 12 runs and six homers in 17 innings.

• Two Phillies, in particular, have seen Wood well: Freddy Galvis is 7 for 13 with a double; Cesar Hernandez is 5 for 11 with a double and three walks. 

Jake Thompson starts for the Phillies. He's 2-2 with a 4.46 ERA in nine games (six starts). He put 10 Marlins on base in 5⅓ innings in his last start but didn't allow a run.

• The Phillies would need to go 2-9 or worse the rest of the way to reach 100 losses. If the season ended today they'd pick second in the 2018 draft. The Giants are 1½ games worse.