Phillies' Nola aims to prevent sweep by Astros (Jul 26, 2017)

BY AP • July 26, 2017

PHILADELPHIA -- It will be up to one of the hottest pitchers in baseball to slow down the toughest offense in the major leagues.

Philadelphia Phillies starter Aaron Nola will try to continue a stellar series of outings when he takes the mound on Wednesday night to face the Houston Astros for the first time in his career.

The Astros will be looking for a three-game sweep.

The seventh overall pick of the 2014 draft, Nola was 3-5 with a 4.76 ERA back on June 16, but since then, he has been one of the game's best starters.

Over his past six outings, Nola is 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA, striking out 50 batters in 42 1/3 innings, to raise his overall record to 7-6 and lower his ERA to 3.38 on the season.

He has gone at least seven innings in five of those starts and allowed two runs or fewer in each, including his last time out, when he gave up five hits and one run in seven innings during a win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday.

Both the pitcher and manager Pete Mackanin credit the development of Nola's changeup as a reason for the right-hander's recent success.

"Nola was outstanding," Mackanin told after the Milwaukee win. "He's been working on that changeup all year, and it's really one of his better pitches right now."

Nola will have his hands full with an Astros offense that is putting up big-time numbers this year, leading the majors in batting average, home runs, runs and several other offensive categories.

Through the first two games of the series in Philadelphia, Houston (67-33) has put up 22 hits and 18 runs after a 5-0 win on Tuesday night. The offense is led by second baseman Jose Altuve, who is trying to become just the third player since 1927 to bat .500 in a month (minimum 80 at-bats). After going 1-for-4 on Tuesday night, he is at .494 (39-for-79) in July.

Nola's opposite number Wednesday, Houston righty Mike Fiers, has also been pitching at a high level for a good stretch of the season. Over his past 10 starts dating back to May 30, Fiers is 6-2 with a 2.36 ERA, holding opposing batters to a .195 average while striking out 69 hitters in 61 innings.

Fiers' last time out, on Friday, he limited the Baltimore Orioles to one run on six hits in seven innings, earning the win to improve to 7-4 with a 3.59 ERA.

"I thought he was really good," Astros manager A.J. Hinch told the Houston Chronicle. "His fastball was really good. Oftentimes we talk about his curveball, and he threw a few of them tonight, but most of it was about his fastball, his command, his control inside the strike zone. He was pretty much in control the whole time."

This will be the third time in Fiers' seven-year career that he faces the Phillies, and the first time since 2013 when he was still with the Brewers. Neither of his starts have gone well: He is 0-2 with a 12.15 ERA vs. Philadelphia, having given up 11 runs (nine earned) in 6 2/3 innings.

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