Phillies ride Nola into opener vs. Marlins

MLB

The Philadelphia Phillies will hand the ball to right-hander Aaron Nola for the third consecutive season on Opening Day when they host the Miami Marlins on Friday.

Nola went 12-7 with a 3.87 ERA in 34 starts last season, and he has compiled an impressive 2.74 ERA in last 50 starts at home. Nola is 3-6 with a 3.28 ERA in 13 career outings against the Marlins.

The last Phillie to start three straight years on Opening Day was the late Roy Halladay from 2010-12.

“I feel like I’m ready,” Nola said.

The Phillies, who finished 81-81 last season, haven’t advanced to the postseason since 2011.

This game will be the debut for new Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who replaced Gabe Kapler. The players have been supportive of the change, especially stellar catcher J.T. Realmuto.

“I think managers are undervalued in baseball, to be honest,” Realmuto said. “Just putting your players in the best position to succeed is not as easy as it seems.”

Offensively, the Phillies will be led by right fielder Bryce Harper. In 2019, his first season in Philadelphia after signing a $330 million contract, Harper produced a .260 batting average, 35 home runs and 114 RBIs. Rhys Hoskins slumped in the second half last season, but still wound up with 29 homers and 85 RBIs.

Andrew McCutchen is back healthy from a torn ACL, and Didi Gregorius was added at shortstop to strengthen the lineup.

“We’re feeling pretty confident,” Hoskins said.

The biggest issue aside from pitching depth appears to be conditioning, after a short buildup for the pandemic-shortened 60-game season.

“I think you have to watch for fatigue as much as you’ve ever watched for it in a season,” Girardi said.

The Marlins, meanwhile, will be looking to rebound from a disappointing 57-105 season. The club remains optimistic about many of their young players to stay in playoff contention in a shortened season.

“The ‘Why not us?’ is ‘Why not us getting hot right away?” Miami shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “Like in spring training. In spring training, we went 12-7 and we won a lot of games in a row.”

Rojas developed into a standout player last season with a .284 average, five home runs and 46 RBIs.

One of the Marlins’ ultra-talented young players is right-handed starter Sandy Alcantara, who will take the mound Friday. Despite a 6-14 record, Alcantara accumulated a 3.88 ERA in 197 1/3 innings and was the club’s lone All-Star last season.

Alcantara has pitched very well against the Phillies in his brief career, going 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA.

“They want me to be a leader,” Alcantara said. “That’s what I’m trying to do. Keep preparing myself. Keep getting better. Become an ace.”

“His stuff is as good as anyone,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly added of Alcantara. “I don’t care who you want to put out there. His stuff is as good as anyone’s.”

Like the Phillies, Mattingly also has some concerns about conditioning in this unique season.

“The biggest thing we’ll be trying to do is make sure that we get in physical shape,” he said. “We can’t have guys trying to get back in shape too fast. We’ll trying to get guys up to game speed.”

–Field Level Media

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