SAN FRANCISCO — Two months had passed since Aaron Nola last permitted more than two runs in a game, and those two months reinforced everything the Phillies believed when they selected Nola with the seventh-overall pick in 2014. No one will apply an “ace” label to Nola because there are so few true aces in baseball and two months does not mint an ace.
“He’s proving,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said, “that he’s probably a front-end starter.”
But even those are still human.
The hapless Giants tagged Nola for five runs in five innings in a 5-4 Phillies loss. It was the first time Nola, who had a 1.71 ERA in his last 10 starts, allowed more than two runs since June 16. His ERA bumped to 3.26 from 3.06. He was not his sharpest.
The Phillies lost for the 12th time in their last 16 games.
“That’s just one of those nights,” catcher Cameron Rupp said. “The baseball gods got him, finally.”
The Phillies had won four of Nola’s previous five starts. He is the brightness, every five days, that powers the remainder of the season. But he threw just 48 of his 84 pitches Thursday for strikes. His fastball lacked its typical command. He walked three batters for the first time since June. He could not generate a high amount of swings and misses.
“I didn’t think I was missing too bad, but I was missing,” Nola said. “I was 1-0, 2-0, 2-1 a lot. I left some balls up and they used all parts of the field.”
Whatever. He’ll start again next week, armed with confidence. The Phillies have moved past the point of stressing over every Nola start; he has become about as sure of a bet as the entire roster.
Everything else is a debate. Nick Williams can win a 2018 job with the kind of swing he displayed on a decent slider thrown by Jeff Samardzija. Williams crushed it for his sixth homer, his first since Aug. 3.
Rupp hit one far to the opposite field. Freddy Galvis tripled and doubled. Rhys Hoskins reached base three times.
Hoby Milner, the slender side-arming lefty, navigated serious trouble created by Ricardo Pinto in the sixth inning. Milner has not allowed a run in his last seven appearances, which total 6 1/3 innings. He has a 2.81 ERA in his brief big-league tryout.
“Milner is really getting close to establishing himself as a guy for the future,” Mackanin said. “I like what he’s been doing. He’s not scared. He throws strikes. He’s tough on lefthanders. He’s tough on righties, too.”
Edubray Ramos followed Milner with a 10-pitch inning that included two strikeouts and was one of his best this season.
But there are holes. Many holes. Start with Tommy Joseph, 5 for his last 53. He hit into a double play with runners on the corners in the sixth inning. It was an impressive turn by the Giants, but one facilitated only by Joseph’s slowness. He’s hit into 19 double plays this season. Maikel Franco stranded three more runners; his on-base percentage is stuck at .276.
The crowds here are not the same as they were when the Giants contended. But any road ballpark is daunting for the Phillies. They are 19-45 away from home.