Right-hander Aaron Nola gave Phillies fans a scare when his season ended due to “low-grade” damage to the ulnar collateral ligament and the flexor tendon his right elbow and forearm, but his agent, Joe Longo of Paragon Sports, tells Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer that the promising young righty completed a throwing program and has been declared healthy. Dr. James Andrews recommended a cautious approach to Nola’s rehab and didn’t consider surgery, per Gelb, and the team and Nola both came away from his October throwing program feeling healthy.
Certainly, that’s a sigh of relief for the Phillies, who are banking on the former No. 7 overall pick (2014) to pitch near the front of, if not at the front of their rotation for the foreseeable future. Nola had an encouraging debut in 2015, tossing 77 2/3 innings of 3.59 ERA ball as a rookie. His 2016 season looked to be a significant step forward before a rapid decline in performance that culminated in a season-ending trip to the DL. The LSU product was sporting a 2.65 ERA with 85 strikeouts against 15 walks to go along with a 53.9 percent ground-ball rate through his first 78 innings this season (12 starts). ERA estimators like FIP, xFIP and SIERA all agreed with that bottom-line result, pegging Nola for a sub-3.00 mark.
A healthy Nola would give the Phillies an impressive young trio atop their rotation, as he’d join fellow righties Vince Velasquez and Jerad Eickhoff (acquired from the Astros and Rangers, respectively) in the starting mix. All three pitchers have demonstrated the ability to miss bats (Nola and Velasquez more than Eickhoff) with at least average control. Durability remains a question mark for both Nola and Velasquez, but that’s a terrific start to a rotation that can be controlled through the 2021 season. Looking elsewhere in the rotation, the final two spots are unsettled, though Philadelphia has myriad options from which to choose. Young right-handers Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Alec Asher all pitched in the Majors this season and will all get looks in Spring Training (that is, if Eflin is able to fully recover from surgery on each of his knees by that point). Young righty Ben Lively, too, could find himself in the mix next spring as well.
Additionally, the Phillies have been linked to veteran rotation help this winter, suggesting that they’re perhaps interested in bringing someone in to fill a similar role to the one occupied by Jeremy Hellickson in 2016. While there’s an outside chance that Hellickson himself could return to reclaim that role, he’s widely expected to reject a qualifying offer (valued at $17.2MM) in search of a more lucrative multi-year deal in free agency this winter.