Phillies: Aaron Nola blanks Nationals in exhibition opener

Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images) /

Phillies ace Aaron Nola likely secured the Opening Day nod after a stellar exhibition showing at Nationals Park

If there was ever any doubt that Aaron Nola would start for the Philadelphia Phillies in the season opener for the third straight season, those were quelled following his convincing exhibition game performance on Saturday.

Facing mostly regular batters of the reigning World Series champion Washington Nationals at Nationals Park, Nola cruised through five scoreless innings, allowing just one single and one walk, while striking out four batters and facing just three over the minimum overall.

Before Nola even threw his first pitch, he received notable run support off the bat of new Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius in the top of the first — a three-run shot against seven-time All-Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. An inning later, a Roman Quinn sacrifice fly RBI and another three-run shot off the bat of former National Bryce Harper gave the Phillies a convincing, early 7-0 lead.

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The Nationals were not able to chip away at their deficit, at least under Nola’s watch. The right-hander retired each of his first five batters faced, as well as 10 of his first 11. The only Nationals batters to reach against him were Eric Thames (single), Juan Soto (walk), and Michael A. Taylor (fielder’s choice).

Nola needed to throw just 62 pitches (42 strikes) to get through the five scoreless frames, before he was relieved by fellow right-hander Hector Neris in the sixth. In addition, Nola induced six groundouts and four flyouts on the mound. The Phillies went on to win the game, 7-2.

Nola improved to 2-0 in spring training/summer camp, whereas Scherzer fell to 1-1 after allowing seven runs (all earned), six hits, and two walks across five frames. He struck out six Phillies batters in the Nationals loss.

The Phillies will have just two more exhibition games — Sunday, July 19, home against the Baltimore Orioles and Monday, July 20, away against the New York Yankees. Likely No. 2 starter RHP Zack Wheeler will get the nod on Sunday opposite former Phillies prospect RHP Tom Eshelman.