3 Phillies to watch in spring training as they fix weaknesses and elevate their game

Spring training may not always be the best indicator of how a player's season will pan out, but there are some Phillies to watch to see if they can improve on skills that will directly impact their season.

Philadelphia Phillies rookie reliever is one of the players to watch this spring training to see if he can improve for 2024
Philadelphia Phillies rookie reliever is one of the players to watch this spring training to see if he can improve for 2024 / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages
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Watch for Aaron Nola to find the black with his fastball again

If you asked Nola, his 2023 was not anywhere near the level of play that he, or anyone else, expects out of him.

Finishing the season with a 4.46 ERA, the third-highest mark of his career, Nola struggled to put hitters away, collecting 202 strikeouts, the lowest mark since 2017 (excluding 2020). It seemed like his pitches were missing just off the plate, reinforced by his 45 walks, the most for him since 2019.

To find success, the lifelong Phillie needs to have his most effective weapon working: his fastball. In 2023, Nola's number one pitch was his knuckle curve, throwing it 31.6 percent of the time. In comparison, he threw 29.4 percent four-seam fastballs and only 18.9 percent sinkers. The fastball usage dropped from 52.2 percent in 2022 to 48.3 percent in 2023, while his curve became his go-to pitch.

The switch in pitch mix and usage could come off the back of the lack of bite he found on his fastballs. The run value on his four-seamer dropped eight runs from 2022 to 2023, while his sinker dropped by a massive 13 runs down to a -2 run value. This needs to be a focal point for Caleb Cotham and the Phillies coaching staff during the spring.

During his first two innings of spring training, the 30-year-old sat 92-93 mph and found the outside corner consistently with the arm-side run sinker. He allowed zero hits, walks, or runs and punched out three over 33 pitches.

It won't always look this good during February and March. There will be times when he allows knocks and gets a little beat up. Pitchers use this time to work on things that they struggled with previously. Nola is looking to regain confidence in his fastball and that second element of his game, setting hitters up for the off-speed.