By Mary Cunningham

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin must be using a sliding scale to judge Aaron Nola’s latest start.

He said he was encouraged by young Nola’s start following the Phillies’ 6-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals last night.

After four horrendous starts in which he failed to pitch through the fourth inning in any of them and gave up 22 earned runs, Nola settled down.

Kansas City took advantage of a pop-up punt by pitcher Danny Duffy that found open space for a single, a bloop hit and some other good fortune to take a 2-1 lead in the second inning. Nola then hung a curveball to a sizzling Kendrys Morales, who pounded it into the right-field seats for a two-out, three-run homer and 5-1 lead.

But Nola retired the last 10 hitters he faced, looking more like the pitcher that posted a 2.65 ERA through his first 12 starts than the one who totaled an ERA north of 15 for the last four.

He gave up just the five second-inning runs in five innings.

“That was encouraging to say the least,” said Mackanin. “He started relaxing and not trying to do too much, and he looked like his old self. That was encouraging to me.”

The encouraging start may buy Nola one more outing in Colorado before the All-Star Break. Or Mackanin admitted, the Phillies might let the right-hander sit on those good three innings until they come back rather than have him pitch in the hitter’s haven that is Coors Field.

“We’ll see, we’ll talk about it tonight or (Sunday) morning,” said Mackanin. “It’s a possibility (to skip him). We’re trying to cover all the possibilities and that’s one of them. He might want to (pitch), but we’ll make the decision.”

Nola said he wanted to pitch Thursday but would wait to see what Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure had to say.

“I’d rather take the ball and keep going out there trying to make pitches and give the team a chance to win,” said Nola. “I’m planning on making my next start. I feel real good right now.”

Like Mackanin, Nola said he was encouraged by the start and felt more like himself than he had the previous few outings.

“I felt really good today, even in the second inning,” said Nola. “I hung a curveball and Morales hit it pretty well. Other than that, I feel I came back pretty strong after that inning, and I was commanding my fastball on the inner part of the plate and thought I mixed my pitches pretty well and had a lot of confidence.

“I felt like my old self out there and that’s what I’m used to doing. I feel like they didn’t hit too many balls hard, but they hit them in the right spots.”

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