Aaron Nola loses his 200th career start with the Phillies


ATLANTA — In his 200th career start, Aaron Nola gave the Phillies his all, but a late comeback fell through in a 4-3 loss to the Braves on Saturday night at Truist Park.

As the margin for error narrows, each error becomes more amplified, and so far Philadelphia’s pitching team has struggled to contain one of Atlanta’s biggest stars: Ronald Acuña Jr. homer and a two-run double in the third and fourth innings, respectively, against Nola.

“He showed up,” Bryce Harper said of Acuña. “I feel like every time I come here he’s been looking pretty good. They’re a great team there. They’re a team we could possibly face in the first round.”

This potential Wild Card Series showdown is highly up in the air, however, as – for the second night in a row – the Phillies’ loss was compounded by the Padres and Brewers winning their respective games. Philadelphia holds a half-game lead over San Diego for the No. 5 seed and is just two games ahead of Milwaukee.

Nola may not have had his best on the mound, but the right-hander still was able to go seven innings, allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks while whipping up eight batters. After Acuña’s double in the fourth, Nola retired 11 in a row.

“He fought all night,” interim manager Rob Thomson said. “He kept going. He gave us seven solid innings. He kept us in the game, fought like hell and I’m proud of him.”

Nola persevered against the Braves and brought his team back while giving the bullpen an always-appreciated rest. But, more importantly, the 29-year-old continues to show he can handle adversity. He’s allowed three or more runs in 13 of 29 starts this season. The key for Nola has been her resilience. He’s pitched fewer than four innings in a start just once this season, not including his two-inning outing against the Nationals on Sept. 11 that was cut short by a 3-hour, 36-minute rain delay.

“I think the young guys in the staff, they learn a lot watching these two guys, Nola and [Zack] Wheeler, and how they grind and how they compete,” Thomson said.

The Phillies have been chasing their first playoff spot since 2011, and for Nola and Wheeler, it would be their first time reaching the playoffs. Nola has the second most starts by any active pitcher who has never made a postseason appearance, and Wheeler is third (192).

Wheeler is set to return against the Blue Jays on Wednesday after dealing with right forearm tendonitis — and Philadelphia’s formidable rotation is coming back strong.

“He’s our ace, he’s our guy,” Harper said of Wheeler. “Being able to get him back is going to be huge for us.”

Every team wants to be at full strength heading into the playoffs, and the Phillies are on the verge of rebuilding their depth chart. Thomson said Rhys Hoskins, who has been sidelined for the past three games with a bruised right hand, is available on the bench on Saturday and the hope is that Hoskins will be in the starting lineup for the Champions League final. Sunday series. With Hoskins, Nick Castellanos is progressing as he recovers from a right oblique injury.

With Harper starting to enter a groove after returning from a broken left thumb – going 1 for 4 but hitting three balls with an exit speed of at least 93 mph against the Braves – and Hoskins and Castellanos potentially returning to the roster, the Phillies are heading to where they want to be health-wise.

But as the offense continues to recover, the pitching staff has the same goal in mind: to hold the fort until the bats roll.

“It’s about keeping runs to a minimum, trying to put in as many zeros as possible. That’s the goal of every outing,” Nola said. “Right now everything is crucial. Obviously trying to get the playoffs going. Every game matters, every game matters.”


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