Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Aaron Nola picks up where he left off

Phillies-Brewers 5 things: Aaron Nola picks up where he left off

Phillies (29-59) at Brewers (51-41)
7:10 p.m. on NBC 10; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies fell to 30 games under .500 in their first game after the All-Star break after the Brewers broke out for an eight-run second inning in a 9-6 Phils loss. To make matters worse, Aaron Altherr went down with a mild right hamstring strain.

Looking to get back in the win column, the Phils send out Aaron Nola against Jimmy Nelson in Milwaukee.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening:

1. A right-field sized hole
If you were going to point to one lasting bright spot in the Phillies' dreadful first half, it would likely have been Altherr's emergence as an everyday outfielder (or Nola's rebound, see below). That makes Friday's injury that much more painful.

A hamstring strain, even a mild one, usually costs a player at least a few weeks, meaning Altherr will almost certainly head to the disabled list. Sure, wins and losses are pretty meaningless for the Phillies at this point, but the loss of Altherr will still affect the Phils. 

His injury assures Nick Williams of even more playing time. The club was already giving him starts to evaluate him, but this ensures his everyday role. Daniel Nava and Cameron Perkins, the latter who filled in for Altherr on Friday night, likely will be the ones to really absorb Altherr's at-bats. Both have led off at times this season and could move into the No. 1 hole (Altherr has batted first in the last two games). 

Considering it's a mild strain, this shouldn't be a season-ending injury for Altherr. For a player that began the season as a fourth outfielder, it's a credit to him that the team will truly miss him during his absence. He has more doubles, homers and hits so far than he had total before 2017 while putting up career best triple slash marks. 

2. Now to Nola
The Phillies' Saturday starter was the only other piece in the ongoing rebuild that may have taken the next step at the major league level. He struggled through some of his early starts and went on the disabled list but has looked back in form over his last few starts.

Looking at his numbers since he came off the DL in late May, he has a 3.36 ERA in 10 starts with 66 strikeouts over 64 1/3 innings. Zooming in further, he's had the best four-game stretch of his career going into the All-Star break. 

In four consecutive starts, he threw at least seven innings, gave up two runs or fewer, allowed five hits or fewer and struck out eight or nine batters in each game. He's brought his season ERA down to 3.59, the same mark he had through 13 impressive starts during his strong rookie season in 2015.

In full, Nola is back to being … well, Nola. He's been able to catch batters looking on backdoor strike threes with his fastball. He's utilized his curveball in seemingly any count. He's struck out a batter per inning and been able to pitch deep into games with his fast-paced efficiency.

Nola beat the Brewers twice in 2016, allowing just one run on 12 hits in 13 innings while striking out 16. His ERA against other teams was 5.32. Hernan Perez is the only Brewer with two hits against him while no current Milwaukee batters have an extra-base hit against him. Domingo Santana is 1 for 6 while Jonathan Villar is 0 for 5 with two walks.

3. Full Nelson
If you looked at the Jimmy Nelson of last season and then saw him this season, you would be convinced you're watching two different pitchers.

In 2016, Nelson issued 86 walks, the most in baseball, while also hitting the most batters (17) for the second straight season. He put up a horrendous 1.517 WHIP, 4.3 walks per nine innings and a career-worst home run rate. That was a recipe for a 4.62 ERA despite his underlying stats saying he should have been even worse. 

This season, the 28-year-old righty has been near the top of the NL Central-leading Brewers' rotation with a 3.30 ERA. How has he shaved more than a run off his average? He's posted career-best strikeout and walk rates. His K/9 rose by more than 2.5 strikeouts and his walks per nine fell two walks. That's significant progress. 

Looking at his repertoire, he hasn't changed his approach too much. He's thrown his four-seam fastball a little more than his sinker in 2017 vs. 2016, perhaps trying to move away from pitching to contact. Beyond his 94 mph fastball, he utilizes a high-80s slider and mid-80s curveball. He rarely uses his changeup.

4. The Brewers beyond Braun
Brewers slugger Ryan Braun hit his 21st career home run against Phillies pitching Friday. It was the big hit of the game, a grand slam that put Milwaukee up six runs in the early going. 

While the veteran leftfielder bats third for Milwaukee, there's much more to the surprise Brew Crew than just the former MVP. The player who made the largest headlines this season is Eric Thames. The first baseman came over after dominating in Korea. He had previously struggled in Toronto and Seattle back in 2011-12 despite being a top prospect for the Blue Jays at one point. Thames hit 11 home runs in 24 April games this season. He's fallen off some since but hit three home runs and batted .333 in his last six games before the break.

Further down in the lineup, Travis Shaw has shaken off a trade from the Boston Red Sox and cemented his role as the cleanup hitter. He brings a .296/.366/.565 slash line into action Saturday after he was acquired in the offseason. 

There's also plenty of youth excelling in Milwaukee. Santana has hit 15 home runs and provided some all-around hitting in the middle of the order. Keon Broxton has hit for a low average and struck out 117 times (the most in baseball), but has 30 extra-base hits, including 14 home runs. Shortstop Orlando Arcia, 22, has been solid with the bat while truly making his impact with his glovework.

As a team, the team has led the NL in home runs and stolen bases so far this season while posting the ninth-highest Wins Above Replacement in all of baseball from their non-pitchers.

5. This and that
• The Phillies won four of seven against the Brewers last season, a year after going 0-7 against Milwaukee. That 2015 series sweep was the only time the Phillies failed to take a game in a season series of more than four games against an opponent since 2004.

• Both Cameron Rupp and Andres Blanco have home runs off Nelson in their careers. Odubel Herrera is 2 for 3 with two doubles and three walks. Tommy Joseph is 2 for 2 while Rupp is 2 for 4 with a double and the homer.

• In three career starts against the Phillies, Nelson is 1-1 with a 6.89 ERA in 15 2/3 innings, allowing three homers in those frames.

• Maikel Franco had four hits Friday. It was his second four-hit game of the season (June 13 vs. Boston). Going into this series, Franco had just four hits in his last 26 at-bats.

Phillies recall Jake Thompson from Triple A, option Ricardo Pinto to Lehigh Valley

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Phillies recall Jake Thompson from Triple A, option Ricardo Pinto to Lehigh Valley

After Monday night's rain-soaked blowout loss, the Phillies' bullpen seems to be a bit depleted.

With that in mind, the Phillies have recalled pitcher Jake Thompson from Triple A and optioned reliever Ricardo Pinto to Lehigh Valley.

After a lengthy rain delay cut short Vince Velasquez's start, the Phils' bullpen was charged with six innings of work in the 13-4 loss. Pinto, responsible for five of the runs, tossed 1 1/3 innings as play resumed in the fourth inning. 

He may not be down for long, though, as the Phils have an off day Thursday to recover.

Thompson seems like a peculiar choice to call up. He's struggled mightily this year in Lehigh Valley. The 23-year-old who came over in the Cole Hamels trade, is 4-11 with a 5.36 ERA. He's given up 107 hits in 94 innings pitched, as well as 36 walks on the year — one less than he gave up in 129 2/3 innings in 2016.

However, Thompson is already on the 40-man roster and has not pitched since going seven strong innings of two-run ball on July 20. 

Tonight's Lineup: Phillies showcasing Howie Kendrick in cleanup spot


Tonight's Lineup: Phillies showcasing Howie Kendrick in cleanup spot

With less than a week to go before the trade deadline, the Phillies are putting Howie Kendrick in prime position to show off his skillset to a contender.

After sitting out last night's 14-3 loss, Kendrick returns to the lineup, batting cleanup and playing left field. In four games since returning from a hamstring injury, Kendrick has picked up where he left off, hitting .364 with two RBIs. Overall, Kendrick has appeared in just 37 games for the Phillies in 2017, but has been exceptional when healthy. 

Although he may not hit for power, his .350 batting average and ability to play multiple positions in the infield and outfield should be enough to interest teams. 

Cesar Hernandez will again lead off vs. the Astros. Much like Kendrick, Hernandez has had a strong return from the DL, hitting .321 with six RBIs in seven games since the All-Star break. He's also worked five walks compared to just three strikeouts. It's no surprise Hernandez's return has coincided with the Phillies' recent hot offensive stretch (see Game Notes)

Since the All-Star break, the Phillies have the seventh-most runs scored in all of baseball. Monday's loss ended a stretch of seven straight games of five or more runs scored for the Phillies — their longest single-season stretch since 2005.

Nick Williams will hit in the three-hole for the second straight game. Williams has sparked the Phils' stagnant offense since his arrival to the big leagues. In 20 MLB games, Williams is slashing .315/.350/.966 with four homers and 18 RBIs. 

Here is the Phillies lineup:
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Howie Kendrick, LF
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Tommy Joseph, 1B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Nick Pivetta, P