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Not Nola Again: Nationals try to figure out Aaron Nola in second of three with Phillies

Aaron Nola tossed eight scoreless last week in Washington, D.C., in a 2-0 win over the Nationals, and he faces the Phillies’ NL East rivals again tonight in Citizens Bank Park.

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Going up against Max Scherzer in a head-to-head matchup of NL Cy Young contenders last week in the nation’s capital, Phillies’ right-hander Aaron Nola tossed eight scoreless against the Nationals, walking one and striking out nine in a 2-0 win.

Nola’s curve, in particular, stood out, with the right-hander throwing 37 breaking balls, 25 for strikes, and generating 19 swings and 10 whiffs with the pitch, against which opposing hitters had a .191 AVG against when the day was done, to go along with a .191 AVG against his fastball, a .227 AVG against his changeup, and a .202 AVG against his sinker. Not bad, not bad.

Nola, 25, and a 1st Round pick in 2014 out of Louisiana State University, finished that outing with a 2.13 ERA, a 2.66 FIP, 45 walks (2.40 BB/9), 169 Ks (9.00 K/9) and a .195/.258/.281 line against in 26 starts and 169 IP on the season, with the win leaving him (15-3) overall, ranked 2nd among NL starters in ERA, 4th in FIP, 10th in BB/9, and 10th in K/9, with the National League’s second-lowest BAA.

“Of course, Nola is our guy,” Phillies’ skipper Gabe Kapler told reporters after the win last Wednesday, in arguing that his pitcher was Cy Young-worth this season, “but I watch him every time out there and just the dependability, the consistency, the creativity, the numbers. The numbers speak for themselves.”

“Today was an example – he beat Max Scherzer.”

The Nationals were clearly impressed with what they saw from Nola, who finished the game (3-0) with a 1.25 ERA and a .184/.244/.250 line against in three starts and 21 23 IP vs the Nats in 2018.

“He’s competitive,” Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said. “At the end there he humped up to 95 [mph], which I didn’t see all game, and that was pretty impressive.”

“Nola was really good today,” Bryce Harper said after going 0 for 4 with two Ks vs Nola, leaving him 9 for 27 overall vs the right-hander in their respective careers, 1 for 10 this season.

“He’s been great since the second-half started, and earlier in the year as well,” the Nationals’ 25-year-old slugger added.

“He was absolutely lights out today. You’re going to have those where you go out there and the guy goes out there and does his job, and it’s definitely tough to be on the other side, but he’s special.”

“He absolutely carved in college when he was at LSU and he was a first round pick, and now he’s a guy that’s going to go out there and be a No. 1 one day. They’ve got Jake Arrieta over there, of course, but Nola he’s a special player. He goes out there and pounds the zone, he knows how to pitch, throws his changeup in great counts, high heaters, things like that, so tip your cap today.”

And the curve that gave the Nationals so much trouble?

“It’s a good one, it really is,” Martinez told reporters. “Like I said, he does a really good job of keeping hitters off-balance.”

“It’s not one of those where it’s necessarily hard to see,” Spencer Kieboom said, after going 1 for 2 with a double in the loss.

“He just does a good job changing speeds with it,” the catcher said. “It’s consistent, the speed is consistent, but it’s a slower curveball and it doesn’t pop out of the hand, that’s what makes it so effective.”

Will a second look in a week give the Nationals a better shot against the Phillies’ righty?