By Sam Bush

Phils manager Gabe Kapler is concerned about ace Aaron Nola’s shaky start to 2019 after he was roughed up again last night:

“I’m concerned that Aaron is not getting where he wants to go,” Kapler said.

“If he was sitting right here, I’d say the same thing to him. The flip side of that is the obvious, which is that he has a long track record of success. Not the only good starting pitcher that has had some early-season struggles, and we are going to do everything in our power to help him get back on track. He deserves as much confidence as anybody does. It doesn’t mean that it feels good to watch him struggle by any stretch. It’s also very true that this is an excellent major league pitcher that deserves the benefit of the doubt here.”

Nola’s shaky season continued last night in a 7-6 loss to the Mets in 11 innings.

He allowed five runs on seven hits and three walks in four innings. Nola has allowed five or more runs in three consecutive starts. He has a 7.45 ERA this season, which is the highest mark among 78 qualified pitchers in the Majors.

“It’s been a tough go so far,” Nola said.

“Just got to find a way to get over it,” Nola said. “I’m going to find a way to battle through it. It’s tough right now for me.”

So what in the world is going on with Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young Award voting last year?

“My body feels good,” Nola said. “My arm feels good. I’m healthy. That’s the main thing for me. I feel like if I’m healthy I can make strides.”

“No health concerns,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said.

Nola’s fastball averaged 91.9 mph last night, which is below his average (92.2 mph) in his first three starts and his average last season (92.7 mph).

The movement on Nola’s curveball and changeup haven’t changed much from last season, according to Statcast data. Indeed, his command seems to be the issue as he is throwing fewer strikes than at any point in his career. Nola threw first-pitch strikes to only 10 of 22 batters. He has thrown first-pitch strikes only 47.1 percent of the time this season.

If that sounds low, it is. Nola threw first-pitch strikes at a career-high 69.2 percent clip last year.

His career average from 2005-18: 65.1 percent.

The league average this season: 60.4 percent.

Batters are chasing fewer of Nola’s pitches outside the strike zone. They are swinging at fewer first pitches. They are swinging and missing at fewer pitches in general, too.


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