Philadelphia Phillies' Aaron Nola pitches to a Milwaukee Brewers batter during the first inning of a baseball game Friday, April 22, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)
AP Photo/Tom Lynn

Pete Mackanin on Aaron Nola: “He’s a little confused right now”


Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola looked like one of the best pitchers in the National League through the first two months of the season, but things have completely collapsed for him over his last four starts. He command abandoned him yet again Sunday against the Giants, as he was chased after giving up five runs on 10 hits over 3 1/3 innings. He also hit three batters, the third of which forced in a run. There’s no way he did that on purpose, but Johnny Cueto later retaliated by hitting Maikel Franco with a pitch. Fun times.

After posting a 2.65 ERA through his first 12 starts this season, Nola owns a 15.23 ERA (22 runs in 13 innings) over his last four starts. He hasn’t made it through four innings in any of them. His ERA now sits at 4.45 for the year.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin acknowledged to Jim Salisbury of that they are “concerned,” but they intend to have him pitch through his struggles. He’s still lined up to make his next scheduled start Saturday against the Royals. For now, at least.

“He’s a little confused right now,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He’s approaching his first full year in the big leagues so he’s going to have some adversity. He probably hasn’t had any in quite a while, if at all. You can see his confidence is shaken. But he’s smart and a competitor. He’ll bounce back at some point.”

There’s been no talk of any physical issue, so Nola is mostly chalking it up to his mechanics being out of whack. The 23-year-old made a quick rise through the minors after being selected No. 7 overall in 2014, so the first taste of failure has surely rattled his confidence a bit too. The Phillies are counting on him to be a key part of their resurgence, so getting it figured out should be a top priority.

Video: Phillies get a double play thanks to an illegal slide by Kevin Pillar

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 13: Kevin Pillar #11 of the Toronto Blue Jays reacts after striking out in the first inning during MLB game action against the New York Yankees on April 13, 2016 at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Blue Jays led the Phillies 4-0 and were threatening more runs with the bases loaded and one out in the top of the third inning against Aaron Nola. Darwin Barney hit what appeared to be an inning-ending double play to shortstop Freddy Galvis, who flipped to second baseman Cesar Hernandez. Hernandez leaped to avoid an incoming Kevin Pillar, making a weak and late throw to first base. A run scored and Barney was safe at first base.

The Phillies challenged the call, however, and the ruling was overturned, giving the Phillies an inning-ending double play after all.

Here’s the slide:

Here’s another video with a better angle. And here’s a good screen capture:


Baseball’s new slide rule, Rule 6.01(j), a bona fide slide is defined as:

making contact with the ground before reaching the base, being able to and attempting to reach the base with a hand or foot, being able to and attempting to remain on the base at the completion of the slide (except at home plate) and not changing his path for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

One can make a tenuous claim that Pillar attempted to stay on the base. Pillar certainly curled his body up in an attempt to interfere with Hernandez.

Many will complain about baseball becoming wimpy with rules designed to protect the fielders. I, for one, think the sport is headed in the right direction when defenseless infielders don’t have to worry about 200-plus pounds of human flesh and bone speeding towards them in an attempt to prevent a double play. The less we have incidents like the ones that involved Ruben Tejada, Alex Avila, and Buster Posey, the better.

Is it time for the Phillies to release Ryan Howard?

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 22:  Ryan Howard #6 of the Philadelphia Phillies walks in the dugout during the game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on April 22, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

In his 10 Degrees column published yesterday on Yahoo Sports, Jeff Passan discusses Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard‘s contract and his continued struggles this season. Howard inked a five-year, $125 million extension with the Phillies back in 2010. Due to injuries, age, and the league figuring him out, Howard has been worth -3.9 Wins Above Replacement since the contract began in 2012.

Passan wonders if it’s time for the Phillies to release Howard, who has struggled all year to the tune of a .161/.233/.381 triple-slash line in 133 plate appearances. Howard, who can also neither run nor field adequately, is the second-least valuable first baseman in baseball (-0.7 WAR) behind the Mariners’ Adam Lind (-0.8), according to FanGraphs.

The Phillies recently promoted Tommy Joseph, a former catching prospect whose career progress had been paused due to concussion issues. He has hit well enough in 17 plate appearances since his promotion, racking up three singles and a homer. The 24-year-old offers more upside than Howard does for the surprisingly-contending Phillies.

Owed $25 million for this season plus a $10 million buyout for 2017, no team is going to want to acquire an ineffective Howard even if the Phillies cover all of his salary. Even if he were to get hot ahead of the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline or the August 31 waiver deadline, the Phillies won’t get anything of significance in return — maybe a mop-up type of reliever or a Quad-A type of hitter.

It would certainly behoove the Phillies to simply release Howard just to clear up the roster space. Howard is still a fan favorite but no one buys tickets anymore to watch him play nor are his jerseys flying off of the shelves at the store at Citizens Bank Park. Meanwhile, the Phillies are expecting utilityman Cody Asche to return possibly by the end of the month, and outfielder Aaron Altherr could be activated in July. Outfield prospect Nick Williams could earn a promotion to the majors at some point in the next two months as well. There just aren’t enough spots on the 25-man roster for the Phillies to carry an ineffective veteran who provides zero present value and zero future value.