Phillies-Pirates 5 Things: Aaron Nola Returns in Series Rubber Match - NBC 10 Philadelphia

Phillies-Pirates 5 Things: Aaron Nola Returns in Series Rubber Match

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Phillies-Pirates 5 Things: Aaron Nola Returns in Series Rubber Match
    CSNPhilly.com
    Phillies-Pirates 5 things: Aaron Nola returns in series rubber match

    Phillies (15-25) at Pirates (22-20)
    1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

    The Pirates got to Vince Velasquez in the sixth inning on Saturday and handed the Phillies a 6-3 defeat, their 16th loss in 20 games. The Phillies aim for their first series victory in nearly a month as Aaron Nola returns to the rubber vs. Chad Kuhl and the Buccos.

    Here are five things to know for Sunday's matinee:

    1. Welcome back, Nola
    For the first time in 31 days, Nola will be back in the major leagues, starting for the Phillies. Nola was three starts into his third season with the big-league club before he went on the disabled list with a back injury. Though it is his third season, he will turn just 24 years old on June 4. 

    To catch up on his early season, Nola was solid in his first two starts. He put together a quality start against the Nationals on Apr. 8 with 17 runs of support before holding the same lineup to just one run on six hits and no walks in five innings six days later. In those two starts, he struck out 13 and walked just two batters.

    His third start was more of a struggle, although he picked up a win to bring his record to 2-0. He allowed four runs to the Mets in five innings, working around 11 baserunners to keep the Phillies in the lead. He fanned just two while walking four. He wasn't sharp and that may have been because of his back ailment.

    Now he returns to the hill after two strong rehab appearances with Triple A Lehigh Valley. Nola, who ended last season with an elbow injury, made his penultimate start of 2016 against the Pirates in Pittsburgh. The Buccos knocked around the young righty, who surrendered three separate Phillies leads and didn't record an out in the fifth inning.

    Only one Pirate hitter, John Jaso, has more than two at-bats against Nola. Jaso is 2 for 5 with a double and a walk while four others have one hit each.

    2. Too Kuhl for school
    In his second season with the Pirates, Kuhl has been ice cold through eight starts. 

    The 24-year-old righty has a 6.69 ERA and has averaged just 4.4 innings per start. He has a 1.743 WHIP and has just a 1.87 K-to-BB ratio. He actually got off to a solid start with two quality outings and a 2.60 ERA through three appearances, but has not lasted past the fifth inning in any of his subsequent appearances. He's allowed 10 runs and 19 baserunners in his last two starts, both losses.

    One positive for Kuhl is that he's been able to limit the long ball thanks to his mid-90s sinker. He ran it up to 100 mph in his last appearance. He also has a hard slider and changeup, both around 89-90 mph, while rarely throwing his curveball.

    Kuhl beat the Phillies as a rookie last year, allowing two runs on four hits in six innings. He struck out five, walked none and had a perfect game through four innings. He allowed an RBI double to Aaron Altherr as well as one hit each to Tommy Joseph, Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez.

    3. The surprising success of the Phillies' part-timers
    The Phillies went into this season with a pretty similar starting lineup to last season, just adding two veteran hitters in Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders. 

    However, they overhauled the bench, bringing rookies Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi north after spring training along with veteran Daniel Nava to join Andres Blanco. They have since added Ty Kelly into the mix after Altherr, originally the fourth outfielder, was bumped into a full-time role (in which he has excelled).

    And the early returns have been encouraging for the Phils. Some of the starters, whehter it be Saunders, Herrera or Maikel Franco, have disappointed, but the bench has been an overall success. Let's take a look at each player's batting line in their short stints thus far:

    Daniel Nava: In 73 PA, .305/.425/.458 with two home runs, eight RBI and 11 runs scored

    Andrew Knapp: In 47 PA, .275/.383/.450 with one home run, three RBI and three runs scored

    Brock Stassi: In 56 PA, .216/.286/.412 with two home runs, six RBI and four runs scored

    Andres Blanco: In 35 PA, .219/.286/.344 with one home run, one RBI and three runs scored

    Ty Kelly: In 13 PA, .333/.308/.583 with two RBI

    The takeaways: Blanco and Stassi have struggled to get on base, but Stassi has provided the promise of power in his first glimpse of big-league action. Knapp has been quite solid behind the dish as the backup catcher, perhaps earning him more time in the future or making him an enticing trade chip once Jorge Alfaro is in the mix. Kelly hasn't had enough playing time as he is truly the last guy on the bench.

    The biggest surprise has to be Nava. His career looked nearly toast during stints with four different American League teams over the last two seasons. However, his first try on the Senior Circuit has been solid. Don't let the numbers fool you though: He hasn't hit a home run since his first start of the year and is batting just .259/.310/.296 in May. He'll need to find more of that fountain of youth he drank from in April to keep his spot with plenty of players on the cusp of the majors.

    4. Players to watch
    Phillies: Freddy Galvis picked up two hits on Saturday while batting in the No. 2 spot in the lineup. He's 8 for 19 (.421) in that spot with an OPS above 1.000.

    Pirates: Andrew McCutchen has continued his decline this season, but he has hit the Phillies well throughout his career. Even in a down year in 2016, he still blasted three home runs off Phillies pitching and has slugged 10 in his career vs. the Phils.

    5. This and that
    • The Phillies are 2-3 in rubber games this season. They haven't won back-to-back games since their six-game win streak ended on Apr. 27.

    • Franco extended his hitting streak to seven games on Saturday afternoon. He's 8 for 26 (.308) since Pete Mackanin moved him down in the lineup.

    • Approximately 255 players have spent time with both the Phillies and Pirates franchises. That includes a player named Cliff Lee (not that Cliff Lee) and most recent crossovers include Charlie Morton and Josh Lindblom.