Aaron Nola did it again. For the seventh time in 11 starts, the Phillies' ace righthander allowed fewer than two runs. His latest gem — a 114-pitch mastery of the Nationals — resulted in a 4-3 victory Thursday night in the opener of a pivotal four-game series. It was the type of dominant performance the Phillies have come to expect from Nola every five days, so much so that manager Gabe Kapler said he felt "complete peace" after Nola gave up back-to-back singles to Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon to open the sixth inning.
Kapler, like everyone else in Citizens Bank Park, knew Nola would get out of the jam. Sure enough, he got dangerous rookie Juan Soto to foul out, Daniel Murphy to line out and Trea Turner to strike out. It was vintage Nola, who became the National League's third 10-game winner and all but secured his spot in the All-Star Game.
You're signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the Phillies season. If you like what you're reading, tell your friends it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.
— Scott Lauber (email@example.com)
After Seranthony Dominguez blew a save for the first time in his career — in front of a national television audience, no less, on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball — Phillies officials were curious to see how the 23-year-old rookie relief weapon would respond.
They can stop wondering.
Dominguez returned to the mound Wednesday night against the Yankees and recorded a six-out save on 25 pitches by retiring some big-name hitters: Greg Bird (strikeout), Brett Gardner (groundout), Giancarlo Stanton (groundout), Aaron Hicks (strikeout), Didi Gregorius (groundout) and Gleyber Torres (strikeout). Then, after reliever Tommy Hunter faltered in the ninth inning Thursday night, Dominguez came in and fanned Mark Reynolds and Wilmer Difo to vanquish the Nationals.
"He was outstanding, especially that last pitch to Difo," manager Gabe Kapler said. "I thought that was a pretty impressive, basically unhittable, down-and-away fastball. I don't know if it was like 98, 99."
It was 98, for the record, and it was filthy, one of many adjectives applied to Dominguez's heater. Kapler has called it "special." Greg Legg, Dominguez's manager at double-A Reading when the season began, describes it as "tremendous." Sometimes it's the only pitch Dominguez needs. Against Difo, for example, he unleashed six fastballs in a row.
Dominguez's slider is almost equally impressive. He has thrown the pitch 97 times and gotten 26 swings and misses. And until the Nationals' Daniel Murphy reached down and volleyed one into right field to drive in the go-ahead runs last Sunday night, opponents were 0-for-22 against Dominguez in at-bats that culminated with a slider.
It's encouraging, then, that Dominguez hasn't shied away from the pitch since Murphy beat him. He challenged Stanton with a pair of sliders before getting him to roll over a fastball. He struck out Hicks and Torres on sliders. On Thursday night, he threw five consecutive sliders to Reynolds.
Consider it another sign that Dominguez has the mentality to succeed in the late innings. And that's just as important as having killer stuff.
Love this detail from Matt Breen's game story: Rhys Hoskins devoured a cheeseburger this week for the first time since he broke his jaw last month. "Best burger I ever had," said Hoskins, who hit his second homer in as many games and has gone deep seven times in 18 games since returning to the lineup.
A few weeks after crisscrossing the country to figure out why his fingers went numb when he last pitched, Jerad Eickhoff is headed to Florida to resume facing hitters. Eickhoff could be reinstated from the disabled list within the next month, at which point the Phillies' rotation will be overcrowded.
All it took were three games for Phillies first-round pick Alec Bohm to get his first promotion. Bohm is bound for short-season Williamsport, as Marc Narducci writes in our weekly minor-league notebook.
Tonight: Nick Pivetta faces the Nationals for the second time in six days, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phillies vs. Nationals, then postgame fireworks, 6:05 p.m.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta vs. Gio Gonzalez in Phils-Nats finale, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Day off for the Phillies.
Tuesday: Manny Machado leads the Orioles into Citizens Bank Park, 7:05 p.m.
It didn't go as well as he planned, but Thursday night was significant for Ryan Madson. The veteran reliever took the mound at Citizens Bank Park for the first time since Oct. 7, 2011. Back then, Madson was a mainstay in the Phillies' bullpen, having pitched in a setup role for the 2008 World Series champions and closed for the 2011 team. But he missed three seasons after Tommy John elbow surgery and subsequent injuries, even retiring in 2014 before making a comeback with Kansas City.
In his return to Philadelphia, Madson gave up a two-run homer to Rhys Hoskins in the seventh inning. Neverthless, he has been one of the best stories in baseball over the past four years. Now 37, Madson has posted a 2.81 ERA and averaged 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings over 221 appearances for the Royals, A's and Nationals. Incredibly, those numbers rival his 2008-11 peak years with the Phillies, when he notched a 2.86 ERA and 8.9 strikeouts per nine innings.
Question: In your call for the Phils to trade for [Adrian] Beltre or Moose [Mike Moustakas] you said you see them as short-term rentals. Don't you think they might be able to extend Moustakas right away with perhaps a 3-year deal for something around $36 million? He was unable to find a taker to give him a multiyear deal last offseason before settling on a 1-year contract to come back to the Royals. I think he might jump at an offer like that, with an ascending contender like the Phillies. I also imagine signing him might add incentive for Machado to want to sign here eventually, too. What do you think? — Joseph G., via e-mail
Answer: Good question, Joseph. Let's put aside, for a moment, Moustakas' potential interest in a trade-and-extend arrangement after his miserable experience in free agency last winter. It's not clear the Phillies would want a multiyear relationship with him. While Moustakas surely would add thunder to the middle of their order and aid their playoff push, he isn't necessarily their type of player going forward. The Phillies place high value on on-base percentage, and Moustakas never has reached base at a great clip (.306 career OBP, .310 this season). He also will turn 30 in September, and as he ages, his future might be as a DH. Also, if the shift in baseball's economics was more than a one-offseason phenomenon, three years and $36 million might be an overpay for Moustakas. No need for the Phillies to go there until the market dictates that it's necessary.