Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Aaron Nola's 1st start; hittable opposing pitcher

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Aaron Nola's 1st start; hittable opposing pitcher

Phillies (1-3) vs. Nationals (3-1)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies lost their home opener to the Nationals but impressed their manager in doing it, coming back from a 7-0 deficit and getting the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss.

The series continues Saturday night in Aaron Nola's much-anticipated season debut:

1. All eyes on Nola
In reality, all eyes will be on Nola 32 times this season or however many times he takes the mound. He's coming off an elbow injury that cost him the second half of his season, and before that injury, he had the worst stretch of his baseball life.

On June 5 last season, Nola fired six shutout innings with nine strikeouts against the Brewers to lower his ERA to 2.65 through 12 starts. What happened from there was ugly. Nola gave up 39 runs (36 earned) over 33 innings in his next eight starts as his ERA soared to 4.78. His opponents hit .367 with 14 walks.

Where was the guy with the pinpoint command?

Nola had a rough spring, but Pete Mackanin liked the velocity he saw from his 23-year-old right-hander. 

It's not velocity that made Nola a first-round pick in 2014, though. It was elite command, an ability to spot his fastball wherever he wanted, and a slurvy curveball that can completely freeze hitters.

The Nationals are not an easy first test. Bryce Harper is 7 for 11 off Nola with two homers. Daniel Murphy has a double, triple and a homer in 13 at-bats. Jayson Werth has taken him deep twice.

Nola has faced Washington six times and gone 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA. He doesn't need to go out there tonight and fire seven shutout innings, but the Phillies will want to see him enter and exit the game healthy, keep the ball low and work quickly. This early in the season, it's more about positive signs from Nola than just results.

2. Wake-up calls
Tommy Joseph needs one. So does Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders and Cameron Rupp.

Joseph is 0 for 13 with six strikeouts. Franco is 2 for 16 and has left a whole lot of men on base. Saunders is 1 for 10 and has made a few crucial outs. Rupp is 2 for 11 with five K's.

The Phillies obviously are not going to win many games with half of the lineup doing nothing. It is reminiscent of last season when the Phillies would have so many guys going cold at the same time. That's how you score 39 fewer runs than any other team.

3. Herrera's hitting, though
One guy that you can't complain about so far is Odubel Herrera. Four games into the season, he's gone 6 for 14 with two doubles and four walks.

Herrera had two more hits Friday off Max Scherzer, the reigning Cy Young winner who Herrera continues to have success against (see story).

Herrera and Howie Kendrick have been the Phillies' most consistent hitters less than a week into the season. Freddy Galvis and Aaron Altherr have also shown some pop.

4. Guthrie gets the start
There was some thought the Phillies would face talented young right-hander Joe Ross this weekend, but instead, they'll see veteran Jeremy Guthrie on Saturday and Stephen Strasburg on Sunday.

The Nationals selected Guthrie's contract after Friday's game. 

It's a pretty big surprise to see the 38-year-old starting during a team's first cycle through the rotation. He had a 5.95 ERA for the Royals in 2015 and didn't pitch in the majors last season, posting a 7.17 ERA at Triple A.

He's, at times in his career, been a serviceable fourth starter who limits walks. 

When Guthrie last pitched in the majors, he used a five-pitch mix: four-seam fastball around 92-93 mph, a sinker, changeup, curveball and cutter.

Put it this way: Having faced Scherzer on Friday and with Strasburg on tap Sunday, this is the game the Phillies' bats need to wake up. There won't be much of an excuse if they're silent against Guthrie and a Nationals bullpen they exposed Friday.

5. This and that
* Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris are going to get so many outs this season. Let's just hope they're meaningful outs. Both impressed Friday with the Phillies trailing by multiple runs. The back-end of this bullpen is the team's strength; hopefully, they get to use it.

* Credit to Jeanmar Gomez for easily working his way through Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth inning Friday.

* Harper loves himself some Citizens Bank Park. In 36 career games here, he's hit .306 with 12 homers, 26 RBIs and an OPS well over 1.000.

* As if that's not enough, Harper is protected by Daniel Murphy, a .313 lifetime hitter against the Phillies in 510 plate appearances. 

(How awesome is it that the Mets just gave away Murphy and Justin Turner, who have become two of the most consistent doubles hitters in the NL?)

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

Phillies Notes: A setback for Aaron Nola? Howie Kendrick an option at first base?

LOS ANGELES — Aaron Nola is eligible to come off the disabled list on Monday, but that's not going to happen.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Saturday indicated that the pitcher's recovery from a lower back strain was not going as smoothly as hoped.

Did Nola experience a setback?

"If you want to call it that," Mackanin said.

Nola threw a bullpen session on Friday and, according to Mackanin, did not bounce back as well as hoped.

"After he completed it, he had some symptoms, some soreness or tightness, I guess," Mackanin said. "It was decided he will not make his start on Monday. He will be reevaluated to determine his next bullpen.

"A couple of days ago he said he felt great and then [Friday] not so great. He's improving but he's not 100 percent. There's something bugging him. We're just going to take it day to day. We're being cautious with him this early in the season."

Nola experienced soreness in his lower back after his last start, April 20 against the Mets. The Phils have been filling the opening on their pitching staff with reliever Mark Leiter Jr. Nick Pivetta will be activated on Sunday and make his major-league debut with a start against the Dodgers.

Kendrick works at first base
First baseman Tommy Joseph and catcher Cameron Rupp, both hitting under .200, were not in the starting lineup on Saturday night as Mackanin went heavy on lefty hitters against Dodgers' righty Brandon McCarthy.

Mackanin stressed that he doesn't like to make judgments on hitters until they get around the 100 at-bat mark — Joseph has 63; Rupp 50 — but it's worth noting that first baseman Rhys Hoskins and catcher Jorge Alfaro are both off to hot starts at Triple A and could be eventual replacements if the club looks for more production.

There also could be another option brewing at first base.

Howie Kendrick has worked at first base during batting practice the last two days. On Friday, he merely tracked balls off the bat and worked on first-step breaks. He did so with a regular fielder's glove.

But on Saturday, Kendrick brought his first baseman's mitt to the field. He took some groundballs and throws from across the diamond.

This stuff doesn't happen just by accident.

Over an 11-season career, Kendrick has played in 89 games at first base. He opened the season as the Phillies' leftfielder and hit .333 (13 for 39) with an .883 OPS before suffering an oblique injury two weeks ago in Washington. Kendrick probably needs at least another week of recovery time before coming off the disabled list, but it's now reasonable to wonder if he will go back to left field or get time at first base when he returns. Using Kendrick at first would allow the Phillies to keep Aaron Altherr's bat in the lineup in left field.

Joseph can have a say in all this if he gets his bat going. He is hitting .190 (12 for 63) with just a .505 OPS.

Last May, it was Joseph who earned his way to the majors after his hot start in Triple A coincided with Ryan Howard and Darin Ruf struggling in the majors. Joseph got 347 plate appearances in the majors last season and hit .257 with 21 homers, 47 RBIs and a .813 OPS.

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both struggling mightily through the first month of the season, will get Saturday night off when the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Joseph is hitting .190 with one homer and 18 strikeouts in 18 games, while Rupp is batting .180 with one homer and 20 strikeouts through 15 games. Last season, Joseph had 21 home runs and Rupp 16.

Brock Stassi will spell Joseph at first base and bat seventh. Andrew Knapp takes over for Rupp behind the plate and will bat eighth.

Daniel Nava also receives a start, playing left field. The first-year Phillie is hitting .346 with a pair of homers and as many walks as strikeouts (seven).

Zach Eflin takes the mound in a meaningful start for the right-hander (see story). He opposes resurgent Dodgers righty Brandon McCarthy (see game notes).

Here are tonight's lineups:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

Dodgers
1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Cody Bellinger, LF
7. Chase Utley, 2B
8. Chris Taylor, 3B
9. Brandon McCarthy, P