Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola has not had a great spring.

But in the big picture, well, maybe he has.

Nola was one of the Phillies' biggest and most important question marks coming into camp. He had missed the final two months of the 2016 season because of an elbow injury. All he needed to do this spring to be in the starting rotation was show that he was healthy.

He's done that.

He pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins and threw 82 pitches in his fifth start of the spring on Thursday. He gave up six hits, including a two-run homer, walked one and struck out six.

He's up to 17 2/3 innings for the spring -- without an elbow issue.

"I'm over that," Nola said after the game. "My elbow feels really good. I haven't had any pain or problems with it. I don't even think about it throwing or in games.

"Everything has been very positive. My body is healthy."

Nola, who lines up to fill the fifth spot in the Phillies' rotation, hasn't had good results this spring. He has given up 19 hits and 13 earned runs. But, again, the Phillies were only looking for good health.

"He's been working on his changeup," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Today, he threw more changeups than I've ever seen him throw. The changeup he threw for the home run, he admitted, 'I would never throw that pitch in a game.' But he's working on it, trying to get it going for him, and I think it's going to be a good pitch for him. 

"He really pitched better than the result he got. He had a lot of work with his changeup, which is important. He was as sharp as we've seen him."

Coming into camp, Mackanin was concerned about Nola's health.

"I'm less concerned right now," the manager said. "It's always going to be in the back of my mind. But it's good to see 92, 93, 94 (mph) coming out of his hand, which is important. Once he regains that command, and he showed real good command of his fastball down in the zone today, he's going to be back to where he was -- with even maybe a little more velocity. We'll see. But the changeup is going to help him. I'm very encouraged."

The game
The Phillies lost, 4-2, to the Twins.

The Phils had 10 hits, two by Odubel Herrera, who homered.

Andrew Knapp, pushing to make the club, started behind the plate and had a double.

The Phillies were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

The Phils' bullpen -- Sean Burnett, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris -- accounted for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.

Up next
The Phils play the Yankees in Tampa on Friday. Jeremy Hellickson will start against CC Sabathia.

Report: Maikel Franco 'more than available' in trade talks

Report: Maikel Franco 'more than available' in trade talks

With just over a month to go before the July 31 trade deadline and the Phillies well in the league's basement, Matt Klentak is reportedly looking to the future. 

The Phillies have made underachieving third baseman Maikel Franco "more than available" in trade talks, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe.

In a make-or-break year for the 24-year-old, Franco has struggled mightily, slashing just .221/.280/.645 and has grounded into the most double plays in all of MLB. 

As CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury wrote during spring training, if Franco doesn't show promise and improvement in 2017, the Phillies could target Manny Machado as their third baseman of the future in free agency this offseason.

As Salisbury has long said, the Phillies are unsure if Franco is a future building block and a trade is possible.

If the Phillies were to trade Franco before the deadline, they sure would be selling low on a player who has shown spurts of consistent power hitting.

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Erratic Hellickson facing his former team

Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Erratic Hellickson facing his former team

Phillies (24-49) at Diamondbacks (47-28)
4:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After Friday's victory, the Phillies couldn't keep the good times rolling, losing 9-2 to the Diamondbacks on Saturday night. Jeremy Hellickson will take on his former team in Game 3 of the four-game set, opposing spot starter Randall Delgado.

Here are five things to know for Sunday afternoon:

1. Hellickson vs. his former 'mates
A year after he was traded by his original franchise, the Tampa Bay Rays, Hellickson was dealt by the D-backs on Nov. 14, 2015 to the Phillies for minor leaguer Sam McWilliams. 

McWilliams is a 21-year-old righty in Single A for the D-backs right now, but his value is basically a bonus for Arizona: Hellickson was basically salary dumped on the Phillies, who bought low on the veteran righty.

While the 30-year-old lost his only start against Arizona last season, he went seven innings while allowing just three runs. And he provided a fair amount of value to the Phillies, pitching to a 3.71 ERA over 189 innings. 

He leads the team with 15 starts this season, but he hasn't lived up to the promise of last season nor the qualifying offer he signed in the offseason. He has a 4.61 ERA and has allowed 16 home runs in 84 innings, all while watching his strikeout rate dwindle to a career-low. 

Hellickson is actually coming off one of his better starts this year. He allowed just one run to the Cardinals in seven innings, even striking out four batters. He left with the game tied, but the Phillies' bullpen surrendered seven runs in a loss. The veteran righty hasn't won a start since May 19.

Hellickson has relatively good numbers against the current Diamondbacks squad, buoyed by a 1 for 11 mark from backup catcher Jeff Mathis. Paul Goldschmidt is 0 for 2 with three walks and a HBP against him, while Jake Lamb is 2 for 3 with a home run.

2. Randall on the spot
Delgado has seen his role on the D-backs staff flip-flop over the last month. He's moved from the bullpen to the rotation back to the bullpen.

And now he's back in the rotation. 

Delgado is making a spot start to keep the pitching staff fresh in the middle of a stretch where the team plays 13 games in 13 nights. He's not unfamiliar to starting, having worked in the Braves' rotation to begin his career. However, he started just once in the 2015 and 2016 seasons combined before making four starts this season. 

In his four starts, he was 0-1 with a 3.15 ERA over 20 innings, striking out 20. He threw just 25 pitches in his last appearance, which came in a two-inning relief appearance on June 21. He was stretched out to more than 90 pitches as a starter, but he will be 16 days removed from his last start. Therefore, the D-backs' bullpen will be on notice.

Delgado hasn't started against the Phillies since 2013 and holds a 3.29 ERA over 27 1/3 innings in nine total appearances against them. No current Phillie has faced him more than six times with Howie Kendrick going 0 for 5 with a walk against the righty. Maikel Franco is 3 for 3 with two home runs and a double.

3. The road ahead
Sunday's contest will be just the third game of a nine-game road trip for the Phillies. On Monday, they play the wraparound series finale against the D-backs and their ace, Zack Greinke, before traveling to Seattle for a two-game series.

The Phillies haven't played at Safeco Field since June 17-19, 2011. In that three-game set, the Phils lost two of three. The winning pitchers for the Mariners in that series, Michael Pineda and Jason Vargas, have been solid this season in the American League, albeit for the Yankees and Royals respectively. 

After the quick two-game set, the Phillies will play three games at Citi Field before returning home. The Phillies are 2-4 against the Mets, who they haven't faced since April. The Mets are just 33-41 this season and could field an All-Star team with their disabled list. 

Once the road trip ends, the Phillies play a pair of lackluster teams in the Pirates and Padres for seven games at Citizens Bank Park before the All-Star break. The Pirates are 35-40 while the Padres are 31-44. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies
: Freddy Galvis has picked up at least two hits for the fourth straight game. The switch-hitting shortstop has gone 9 for 18 with three doubles, one triple and a homer during that stretch.

Diamondbacks: After going 1 for 4 with a walk and a run scored on Saturday, Paul Goldschmidt is batting .331/.448/.610 on the season. That line has All-Star written all over it.

5. This and that
• Ben Lively became the first Phillies pitcher to hit a home run since Chad Billingsley vs. the Mets in 2015. Bet you didn't expect a Billingsley reference in these game notes!

• Saturday was the Phillies' first loss at Chase Field since Aug. 11, 2015. The starter for the D-backs in that game? Jeremy Hellickson.

• Going into Saturday, the Diamondbacks rotation led all of baseball with 9.5 Wins Above Replacement and a 3.51 ERA.