Aaron Nola hopes his season is not over.
But it might be.
“If we shut him down for two or three weeks, depending on how he reacts, and by the time he builds himself back up, you’re in the middle of September, that very well could be the case,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said on Wednesday afternoon, about 30 minutes after the team placed Nola on the disabled list with a right elbow strain (see story). “He might be shut down for the season. That will be determined after these next two weeks.”
Nola is not even thinking about his season being over. He believes he will pitch again in 2016.
“I definitely want to,” he said. “I’m definitely going to do everything to get back and recover from this. I really hope I’ll be back before the end of the year.”
It goes without saying that the Phillies are going to be cautious — extremely cautious — with Nola. From the day the Phillies made him their first-round draft pick in 2014 he has been considered the cornerstone of a work-in-progress starting rotation.
Nola had an MRI on the elbow Wednesday. Both the pitcher and Mackanin said it showed no structural damage.
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“According to our medical people, they don’t think it’s a major deal but we’re going to be cautious about it,” Mackanin said.
A little review here: Nola breezed through his first 12 starts of the season with a 2.65 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP. Opposing hitters batted .212 and had a .580 OPS over that span. However, over his next eight starts, a span that began on June 11, Nola had a 9.82 ERA and opposing batters hit .367 with a .965 OPS.
Clearly something was wrong, but what? Nola never complained of a health issue. Team officials — and Nola himself — blamed the pitcher’s struggles on everything from a mechanical flaw to arm fatigue to the simple ups and downs that almost all young pitchers go through.
“He never said a word about his arm, never complained, never even asked for treatment,” Mackanin said. “The thing that made him so effective was the deception with his fastball because it kind of exploded at the end and we weren’t seeing that. With no complaints from him, it’s hard to figure out.”
Nola, 23, was adamant Wednesday that he never had an arm issue until he felt discomfort in his last start Thursday night in Atlanta.
“I really didn’t think it was anything,” he said. “It just kind of got sore a little bit. It kind of prolonged for the next couple of days.”
Nola was relieved that the MRI did not detect any structural damage in his elbow.
“I’m very glad it’s nothing else big or serious,” he said. “It’s just a strain. I’ll do the rehab I need to do.”
Nola said he did not know which area of his elbow was strained. No pitcher wants to hear of even a minor injury to the ulnar collateral ligament. Serious injuries to the UCL can lead to Tommy John surgery.
Asked if he knew the affected area, Mackanin said, “I don’t know. I don’t want to know.”
Nola is not sure how he strained his elbow. He did not believe it happened as a result of his trying to do too much to counteract his struggles.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I don’t feel like I changed my mechanics or anything. I just tried to stay on my same routine.
“I never felt any pain or any soreness. I guess it just kind of flared up in that one game (Thursday).”
Nola had been scheduled to start Wednesday night. The Phillies brought up right-hander Phil Klein from Triple A Lehigh Valley to make the start. The Phillies claimed Klein on waivers from Texas in June. Klein, 27, was 2-3 with a 4.80 ERA in 36 major-league games with Texas over the last three seasons.
Klein’s stay could be brief. Nola’s trip to the disabled list could provide the Phillies with an opportunity to promote prospect Jake Thompson from Triple A. Thompson last pitched on Sunday so he would not have been able to make a spot start Wednesday night.