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Aaron Nola opens up about struggles with pitch clock. What to expect from Phillies' starting pitcher in 2024

Aaron Nola discusses new 7-year contract with Phillies
Aaron Nola discusses new 7-year contract with Phillies 18:37

CLEARWATER, Fla. (CBS) - Aaron Nola has spent a lifetime making adjustments in the major leagues. There's a reason why Nola is one of the most durable and reliable pitchers in the game.

Last season was one of the biggest adjustments of Nola's pitching life, which took him nearly a year to accommodate.

"Adjusting to the pitch clock," Nola said with a smile said last week. "I feel like I've adjusted a little bit better this year, just from going through it last year. At the end of the year, I was getting a little better. Took me a while to get used to the clock, but I feel like I'm used to it now. I just had to go through different experiences with it."

Adjusting to the pitch clock in a contract year

Being in a contract year was already enough for Nola, but he had to work on the mental aspect of the pitch clock. His game was impacted early on, as Nola gave up a 4.46 ERA in March and April and a 4.93 ERA in May. He gave up 12 home runs in that stretch, compiling a 4.70 ERA with 65 strikeouts and 18 walks.

The pitch clock did affect Nola and his routine on the mound. Nola had to change his approach after being forced to speed things up.

Pirates Phillies Baseball
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola acknowledges the crowd after being pulled during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, in Philadelphia. Matt Slocum / AP

"Oh heck yeah, it was different. We've done this our whole life and for pitchers, we have our routines," Nola said. "For me, I'm a little bit more of a thinker and a longer thinker. It comes to the point where the longer you're in the league, the more you face the same guys, especially as a starter."

"You got to think a little bit more when you're facing the same team a lot. I think that's where it was kind of tough for me, to really think fast against guys I've faced 40 times over my career, maybe more," he said.

Nola flirted with free agency -- and the Atlanta Braves -- but ultimately signed a seven-year, $172 million contract with the Phillies.

Figuring it out in time for the postseason

While it took Nola time to adjust, the results were better from June through August. The ERA dipped to 3.98 with 109 strikeouts to 23 walks. Nola also gave up 17 home runs in the stretch. Those aren't Aaron Nola numbers.

Nola still had to work some things out as the Phillies were making another run toward the postseason.

"Even if it's an 0-2 count, I don't like giving pitches away," Nola said. "Every pitch matters in my opinion, but there are times I did that. And there are times I did a 'oh crap' pitch. We didn't get to the pitch I wanted to and I threw one. That was an adjustment, but I'm lucky to have J.T. [Realmuto] behind the dish and that we're on the same page a lot. That comes with the preparation that we do."

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies
FILE - Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies reacts with teammates after clinching an NL Wild Card berth at Citizens Bank Park on September 26, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

Realmuto and Garrett Stubbs were helping Nola through things pitch-clock-related. Everything was on a time crunch and detailed to a time on the clock when Nola wanted to do things as he set up his pitch. Fortunately, Nola doesn't have to worry about many miscommunications with Realmuto since he's been throwing to him for five years.

"Oh, I don't shake him off much. If I do shake him off, I always have a reason," Nola said. "But the shakeoffs are quick now, especially with the clock. We're all lucky to have him and Stubby [Stubbs] behind the plate. We talk about the game planning since that's really important now in the age of the pitch clock. You have to be on the same page. You don't have time to shake off and do all that stuff nowadays."

Nola primed for big season in year 2 with a pitch clock in MLB

The pitch clock adjustments Nola made finally started to show come the postseason, right when Nola needed to perform most. In four postseason starts, Nola had a 2.35 ERA with 23 strikeouts to just four walks in 23 innings pitched.

Nola is carrying over the strides he gained into 2024, knowing he has the full year of working with the pitch clock under his belt. He knows what to expect, and what to do to pitch as one of the game's best.

Championship Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Arizona Diamondbacks - Game Six
FILE - Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies prepares to pitch in the first inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during Game Six of the Championship Series at Citizens Bank Park on October 23, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Elsa/Getty Images

"Pitching in spring training games now and last year through it, I know some sort of time that I have in my head to catch the ball and get back on the mound," Nola said. "Rather than always looking at the clock every single time and then look at the hitter, and try to throw the ball out and whatnot. I have a little bit of a sense now because I know how long I have before I can look at the clock and how long I have to pitch."

A big season for Nola may be forthcoming.

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