READING — Amid children slapping together their thunderstix, a grown man throwing freebies into the stands while riding a makeshift ostrich and the other distractions Wednesday night, Aaron Nola displayed solid mechanics and a better-looking curve.
The Phillies' first-round pick this June looked like the prospect fans are hoping for in a season in which Cliff Lee could be headed for major surgery, Kyle Kendrick could be bounced from the rotation and A.J. Burnett might walk away.
A First-Energy Stadium crowd of 6,331 saw Nola allow one run and six hits in five innings, with 47 of his 72 pitches for strikes, in Reading's 9-2 win over Harrisburg.
Caleb Ramsey had three hits and two stolen bases for Harrisburg. Drew Vettleson had a double and a hit-and-run bleeder single. Otherwise, the LSU product used his 2- and 4-seam fastballs, curve and change-up to keep the Senators off balance in his Double-A debut.
"Making quality pitches is the big key," Nola said. "The mistakes they hit. They were over the plate, not good pitches for me.
"I think I made one good pitch and the guy got his hands in and made a good swing. The four pitches I left over the plate, they made me pay."
Admittedly amped up working in front of a much larger crowd that he did in Single A, Nola (1-0) hit 97 mph on the radar gun to the third hitter he faced — Cutter Dykstra, son of former Phillie Lenny Dykstra — and was steadily at 95 mph the first time through the Senators' lineup.
The right-hander consistently hit 93 mph the second time through the order.
"He's got good stuff," Reading catcher Sebastian Valle said. "He throws strikes. It's easy for a catcher to call people like that.
"He had sink movement to his fastball and had pretty good control. His change-up and curve, he could throw on the first pitch [of an at-bat] or for a strikeout."
Nola didn't get his first swing-and-miss until the 11th batter, Adrian Sanchez, who swung and missed three times in that at-bat for one of Nola's four strikeouts.
The 21-year-old also got his first professional hit when his sacrifice bunt attempt went off first baseman Matt Skole's glove to load the bases. He scored four batters later during a seven-run third inning.
Nola had his only two three-ball counts and lone walk in the fourth, but got a double-play grounder with runners on the corners to end the threat.
"I got behind the first couple batters [in the fourth]," he said, "but I was able to come back and that double play helped me out."
Harrisburg's lone run against Nola came in the third when Cole Leonida doubled to lead off and scored one out later on Ramsey's single.
Nola was 2-3 with a 3.26 ERA in seven games (six starts) with Single-A Clearwater before his promotion. The right-hander expects to continue throwing a five-inning maximum every sixth day the rest of the minor-league season, but said the Phillies have not told him what the plan is beyond that.
He has thrown 361/3 innings as a professional after 1161/3 this spring at LSU.
"He makes good pitches," Valle said. "When he misses, it's only a little bit, but they are still good pitches. He throws a pretty hard, heavy ball."
THE OTHER FIRST-ROUNDER: Jesse Biddle threw five hitless innings Wednesday night for Single-A Clearwater, his first affiliated start since being shut down after his June 23 appearance in Reading. He walked one and struck out five.
The 27th overall pick in the 2010 draft was 3-9 with a 5.03 earned run average in 15 starts for Reading.
GAME NOTES: Jake Fox continued his torrid hitting with a two-run single in the seven-run third and a two-run homer to right in the fifth. The 32-year-old is hitting .332 with 16 home runs and 55 RBIs in 53 games with Reading. … Onetime Lehigh Valley IronPig Seth Rosin, who also was on two major league rosters early in the season, hit 97 mph and retired six of the seven batters he faced in his two innings Wednesday for Reading.
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