Aaron Nola entered uncharted territory Sunday afternoon, both in terms of pitch count and innings. And while his bid for his first professional shutout faltered down the stretch, all indications are he passed his latest test.
The Phillies' top pitching prospect recorded a career-high eight strikeouts and allowed one run over eight innings to help Double-A Reading to a 4-1 road win over Erie.
"I felt good out there," said Nola, who threw 66 of 101 pitches -- also a personal best -- for strikes and induced eight ground-ball outs. "My body felt great and my arm felt good and all of my pitches were working for the most part. I got behind some guys, but I pounded the zone the best I could.
"The fastball was my main pitch today. I usually use it throughout the game a lot. I fell behind a couple hitters to start off and I missed some spots and I left a couple fastballs over the plate, but luckily, some of those were right at our guys. I threw [the curveball and changeup] mostly when I was ahead in the count or when I needed a ground ball or a double play, specifically."
Nola (4-2) allowed four hits and did not issue any walks in lowering his ERA to 2.04 in his sixth Eastern League start.
The 21-year-old right-hander faced the minimum the first time through the lineup, with Brendan Harris -- who reached on third baseman Harold Martinez's throwing error in the third -- erased when he was thrown out trying to steal second.
Jeff McVaney double to left field in the fourth for the first hit off Nola, but he was stranded in scoring position as MLB.com's
No. 37 overall prospect retired the next seven SeaWolves.
Wynton Bernard singled to left with two down in the sixth, but Cam Perkins made an accurate throw to beat Bernard, who was trying to stretch the hit into a double. The defense hindered then helped Nola again an inning later. Jason Krizan reached on second baseman Tony Thomas' throwing error, but Thomas started an inning-ending double play moments later.
"It was big-time, [catcher] Logan Moore throwing that guy out at second and Perkins throwing the guy out at second trying to get the double," Nola said. "It was big for me and big for the team."
Erie finally got on the board in the eighth. Connor Harrell led off with a single and raced to third on James Robbins' base hit up the middle. Brendan Harris plated Harrell with a sacrifice fly, but Nola set down his final two batters of the afternoon before turning a 4-1 lead over to the bullpen.
Stephen Shackleford worked around a pair of ninth-inning walks to earn his sixth save and give Nola his third consecutive victory in front of 1,303 fans at Jerry Uht Park.
"I felt good out there," said Nola, selected seventh overall in last year's Draft out of Louisiana State. "I felt like I was pounding the strike zone and getting early outs ... and letting the defense work behind me. There's no soreness, arm feels great. They told me I was done and they wanted to get Shackleford in there for the save. Body feels good, arm feels great.
"I try to focus on each outing every time I go out there and give 100 percent and try to give my team a chance to win."
Nola allowed one run over seven innings on Monday against New Hampshire and yielded one earned run over seven frames six days earlier in Richmond. He's given up one earned run or fewer four times and has surrendered more than two runs just once, in his season debut.
Reading first baseman Art Charles continued his hot hitting by going 3-for-3 with a double and a pair of walks, while Phillies No. 25 prospect Aaron Altherr smacked a solo homer.
Erie starter Chad Green (1-4), the Tigers' 18th-ranked prospect, allowed a run on five hits and two walks while striking out five over five innings in a losing effort.