ATLANTA — Aaron Nola won't start a playoff game this season. He probably won't win the Cy Young Award either. But the Phillies ace is poised to achieve the best measure of his rise to the level of baseball's elite pitchers.
By recording two outs here Sunday, Nola will reach 200 innings.
"It was one of my goals this year. I want it to be my goal every year," Nola said before Saturday's game. "It means you made every start. I haven't made every one since I've been up here."
Indeed, Nola missed one month early last season with a lower back strain, and he got shut down for the final two months in 2016 because of a strained right elbow. This year, he started opening day for the Phillies and has made every start thereafter, going 16-5 with a 2.44 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 199 1/3 innings.
But staying healthy is no longer the primary prerequisite for working 200 innings in a season. Given the preponderance of hard-throwing relievers, starters are getting the hook increasingly early, often before they face a lineup for the third time.
In 2012, 18 National League pitchers reached the 200-inning mark. The club shrunk to six in 2016 and seven last season. Nola will be only the fourth NL pitcher to reach 200 innings this season, joining Washington's Max Scherzer (213.2), the Mets' Jacob deGrom (209), and Arizona's Zack Greinke (201.2). Arizona's Patrick Corbin and Colorado's Kyle Freeland are closing in on the mark.
"I don't like to go out there and throw five innings," Nola said. "Seven, seven-plus innings is what I want to do every time to save the bullpen, so they don't get taxed, and they stay healthy. I'm still searching for my first complete game. That'll be nice."
Nola's secret to durability: hydration. He typically drinks six 20-ounce bottles of water — nearly a gallon — on days when he starts. When he isn't pitching, he's almost always drinking water in the dugout during games.
"If you pee clear, you know you're hydrated," Nola said. "In between starts, during the week, I think it's most important for me to hydrate as much as I can. It's always been a huge focus for me."
Rhys Hoskins took the Phillies' elimination in the National League East race as hard as any player in the clubhouse. He sat and stared at his locker long after Friday night's loss, and on Saturday, he absorbed blame for the team's six-week collapse.
"I take a lot of responsibility for it. I wasn't me," Hoskins said. "That's frustrating and disappointing. But all you can do is learn from it."
Hoskins has hit 10 homers in his last 45 games to increase his team-leading total to 32. But he also is batting .200 with a .735 OPS over that span.
"The inconsistency is frustrating," Hoskins said. "That's what makes good players great. I think it comes as a learned skill. All I can do is take what has happened, albeit disappointing, and learn from it and move forward with it."