It’s been a while since the last time the Astros lost a baseball game. That last defeat came on October 3 at Minute Maid Park, and guess what? It was the first contest of a three-game series against the NL champs Phillies and their ace Aaron Nola, who coincidentally was announced as the Phillies starter for Game 1.
Even though the Astros won the next two games, they looked awful against the cited right-hander. Nola pitched 6 2/3 innings back then with only two hits (both singles) and no runs allowed – he kept a no-hitter going until Yordan Álvarez hit a single in the seventh. He didn’t give up any walks and struck out nine hitters. Nola became one of just four starters to get nine strikeouts with no bases on balls against Houston in 2022, along with Kevin Gausman, Tarik Skubal, and Kyle Bradish.
One of Nola’s five pitches is a marvelous knucklecurve that he throws 26.5 percent of the time. That pitch gave him an outcome of .219 BAA, a .346 SLG, and 85 of his 235 strikeouts in ’22 (36%).
Against the Astros, Nola was completely efficient, throwing only 88 pitches (63 strikes). And speaking of his knucklecurve, it was the pitch he used the most that night, delivering it 27 times (31% of his total pitches). He got seven whiffs –more than with any other pitch— and three called strikes. His most remarkable at-bat with that pitch was a first-inning strikeout to Jeremy Peña with three consecutive curveballs.
The special thing about Nola is how well he mixes his pitches and how he combines his fastball with his 79-mph nasty breaking ball. Going from 93-94-95 to 77-80 miles per hour between two pitches can make you lose your head (or even your bat). In fact, Nola’s arsenal is so good that he only used his knucklecurve as his strikeout pitch only once against the Astros. The other eight punchouts came thanks to his other four deliveries.
Aaron Nola, 94mph Fastball and 79mph Knuckle Curve, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/KLGF2bBrs1— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 14, 2022
On October 3, Nola was a bit different against the Astros, throwing in with his heaters (71% with his fastball, 73% with his sinker) while not so much with his curveball (just 52%). His key was to attack Astros hitters with his fastball inside and fool them with his breaking stuff down and/or outside. That worked for him that night but the Astros can’t allow that to happen again on Friday night at MMP.
Against Nola, the Astros’ current players are 6-for-48 combined with no home runs and 18 strikeouts. But no matter what, the Astros can’t let him set the tone with another great performance. With Justin Verlander on the mound and a lineup that already saw Nola days ago, the Astros may not be that easy this time.