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Nola set to return as Phillies face Pirates in finale

PITTSBURGH-- When we last heard from Aaron Nola, the Philadelphia Phillies right-hander was grinding through five tough innings against the New York Mets.

By game's end, Nola had his second win of the season and a lower back strain that kept him on the disabled list for a month.

In his first start since April 20, Nola returns to the mound to face the Pittsburgh Pirates in the finale of a three-game series Sunday at PNC Park. The Phillies won Friday and the Pirates took Saturday's contest. A win for Philadelphia would end a streak of losing six consecutive series.

It would be fitting if Nola could ease that kind of pain, because he has endured a good deal of it himself. But he has persevered.

"I look at the positive side of it," he said. "I'm learning about my body a lot more. Obviously not the way I want to learn about it."

Nola can laugh about it now. He can hardly wait to get back to work.

"I feel that before my injury, everything was coming together," he said.

Nola added, "It's good to feel good."

Nola, who is 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA after three starts, was diagnosed with the injury after facing the Mets and went on the 10-day disabled list. Just before he was due to come off, the back flared up during a bullpen session.

His best outing was his second on April 14, even though he was the losing pitcher in a 3-2 game, in which he struck out six and walked none against the powerful Washington Nationals' lineup. Nola gave up one run and scattered six hits.

"It boils down to locating pitches," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "If you locate where you want them, down in the strike zone, and change speeds, you're gonna be successful more times than not. That's all he's gotta do. He's shown us his ability to locate pitches many, especially his fastball."

Nola has fought back from injuries before. His 2016 season was cut short in late July by a strained tendon in his right elbow. He reported to spring training in good health, but now this.

"Last year he had some issues because his arm was bothering him," Mackanin said. "That's in the past. So now the back is fine, he's 100 percent and I'm hoping the fact he hasn't pitched on a regular basis, I'm just hoping he has good command."

Nola was shelled in his lone career outing versus Pittsburgh in 2016, allowing six runs on as many hits in four innings of a 7-4 loss on July 23.

Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl, who will oppose Nola, has been healthy this season but is wrestling with other issues. Kuhl showed positive moments as a rookie last season when went 5-4 with a 4.20 ERA in 14 starts , but he is 1-4 with a 6.69 ERA in eight starts so far in 2017.

"There comes a point in time where you trust what you do and you trust what got you here," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "I think he needs to simplify things, as I try and do when I get confused.

"He's good when he's athletic on the mound, aggressive on the mound, maintaining confidence and stature on the mound, and he's throwing that ball on a downhill angle with two-seam sink. Everything else plays off that."

Kuhl fared well in his lone career outing versus Philadelphia last season, yielding two runs on four hits in six innings to pick up the win in a 15-2 triumph.

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