Aaron Nola Clears a Symbolic Hurdle in Phillies Camp

CLEARWATER, Fla. - It's early. Very early. There are still more than six weeks to go before opening day.

But Aaron Nola took a positive step in his preparation for the Phillies season when he threw his first official bullpen session of the spring on Wednesday.

Nola, the Phillies' top pick in the 2014 draft and a key building block in the starting rotation, missed the final two months of the 2016 season with an elbow injury. He completed a program of rest and rehab during the offseason and says he is 100 percent healthy.

The truest gauge of Nola's health won't come until the Phillies begin playing games, when he is throwing with the intensity that can only come with competition.

Nola's health is probably the biggest storyline in camp and that showed in the number of eyeballs that peeked in on Wednesday's bullpen session. Several front office members were on hand. Part owner John Middleton was in attendance, as well.

To the naked eye, Nola looked fine, free and easy, as they say. More tests will come and he will remain a focal point of camp.

"We're cautiously optimistic," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He feels great. He feels like he's 100 percent and he looks like he's 100 percent. The test for him is going to be during the course of the season, if he holds up. I'm hoping he does. We know how good he can be."

More health news 
The news is not so good on pitching prospect Victor Arano. He has been shut down and is headed for medical evaluation for persistent soreness and inflammation in his right elbow. Arano first began experiencing discomfort during an assignment to the Arizona Fall League and felt more of it after reporting to Clearwater.

Arano, 22, is an intriguing prospect in the Phillies' system. He was acquired from the Dodgers as part of the package for starter Roberto Hernandez in August 2014. He impressed team officials in spring training 2015 and really took a big step forward after moving to the bullpen last season. He pitched 79 2/3 innings in 46 games at Single A Clearwater and Double A Reading and recorded a 2.26 ERA while striking out 95 and walking just 19.

Arano's stuff has been compared to that of Edubray Ramos, who jumped from Double A to Triple A to the majors last season. Unfortunately for the Phillies, he can't show it right now.

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