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July 20, 2016

Hellickson boosts trade value as Phils snap three-game skid against Marlins

The likelihood of Jeremy Hellickson returning to Citizens Bank Park and donning red pinstripes when the Phillies return from their upcoming road trip is probably equal to the chances that Mike Schmidt steps out of the broadcasters’ booth and reboots his playing career for the season’s final two months.

Hellickson is as good as gone. So I hope you’ve said your goodbyes.

The 29-year-old Hellickson is a free agent at the end of the season. He has a proven veteran with a track record and is pitching well enough this year to certainly help a contending team for the remainder of 2016.

Since it’s also a seller’s market for teams holding pitching trade chips, the Phillies will certainly get value back for Hellickson and turn their rotation into a five-man staff of promising 25-and-under somethings.

Triple-A Lehigh Valley right-hander Jake Thompson, acquired 12 months ago in the Cole Hamels trade, appears more than ready for a big league promotion: he has a 0.57 ERA in his last nine starts after throwing six shutout innings on Wednesday afternoon. No, it’s not a coincidence the Phillies have him and Hellickson pitching on the same days in Allentown and Philadelphia.

“I know he's throwing very well,” manager Pete Mackanin said after hearing about Thompson’s latest outing. 
“I guess there's a chance we'll see him before the year's over.”

More likely before the month is over, since Hellickson has also been throwing well, capped by his well-timed best start of the season on Wednesday night against the Miami Marlins.

Backed by three early runs – all off the bat of Tyler Goeddel, who hit a first-inning two-run home run in his first start in 10 days – Hellickson hurled a season-high eight innings, struck out eight, and didn’t walk a batter to guide the Phillies to a 4-1 victory, snapping the team’s three-game losing skid.

"Outstanding," Mackanin said of the performance.

So, so long, Jeremy?

"I guess I’m anxious just to get it over with," Hellickson said of the trade deadline, which arrives in 12 days. "Like I’ve said before, I want to be here. I want to win here. I really think we can. Just get on a little roll. 

"The last two nights have been pretty rough, losing in extras. If we win tomorrow, split this, and you know, get on a little roll before August I think we can do it. My focus is here right now."

But, wouldn't you rather pitch for a team that could reach the playoffs, you know, a contender and not a rebuilding team?

"I feel like we’re a contender, so I would like to be here," he said. "Again, I’ll worry about that when it happens."

Fair enough. 

Hopefully he's at least packed an extra bag when the Phillies depart on Thursday night for a three-city, 10-game trip that takes them through the deadline. Not unlike Joe Blanton in 2008, Hellickson could be an underrated-if-not-flashy addition for an actual contending team with playoff aspirations.

Hellickson has a 3.84 ERA in 20 starts this season, which ranks 45th out of the 96 big league pitchers that qualify for the ERA title. The former American League Rookie of the Year has a 3.00 ERA in his last seven starts and a 2.95 ERA in 13 of his last 14 starts dating back to May 2, with 72 strikeouts and just 14 walks in 82 1/3 innings in those 13 games.

That should play quite nicely for Matt Klentak and company before his first trade deadline as a major league general manager.

"As well as he pitched, I don't know what's going on on the outside," Mackanin said. "If anybody does have interest, I'm sure they were impressed by tonight."

Hellickson retired each of the first six batters he faced on Wednesday night, four via strikeout. He faced his toughest challenge of the night in the fourth inning, when Giancarlo Stanton and All-Star Marcell Ozuna were due up with two on and one out.

Hellickson escaped without much trouble: Stanton, 2-for-30 in nine games against the Phils this season, popped up to second before Ozuna flew out to right.

"You've just got to bear down, he said. "You’ve just got to make your pitches and keep the ball down to (Stanton). I'm really thinking too much (there). Just trying to execute."

It was a mindset that worked well against the Marlins throughout the night.

"You hold a team like that to one run," Mackanin said, "you've done a heck of a good job."

It was a performance after a string of workmanlike starts that will surely land him in a new home clubhouse within the next two weeks, whether he likes it or not.

"I’ve been traded in the offseason (twice) before so this would be a little different," Hellickson said. "But yeah, like I said, my focus is here and on my next start."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21