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April 21, 2017

Hellickson dodges raindrops, dominates Braves in Phillies win

For just the second time in the young 2017 season, the Phillies have won back-to-back games. After playing no one other than the Washington Nationals and New York Mets for two straight weeks, the Atlanta Braves came to town and got a taste of free agent-to-be Jeremy Hellickson.

And the 2017 version of free agent-to-be Jeremy Hellickson is superior to 2016 free agent-to-be Jeremy Hellickson.

Hellickson set the tone early, retiring each of the first nine Braves batters that came to the plate and survived a long home run from Freddie Freeman to guide the Phillies to a 4-3 win. It’s the first time the Phils have won consecutive games since taking the final two games of their series at home against Washington two weekends ago.

Hellickson, who decided to grab the Phillies $17.2 million qualifying offer back in November rather than test the free agent waters, held Atlanta to two runs over seven innings. He struck out five and didn’t walk a batter.

After his first four starts of 2017, Hellickson is sporting a nifty 1.88 ERA. There are still 14 weeks until the trade deadline so an awful lot can happen, but it Hellickson keeps it up, that’ll play well in the Phillies ability to flip him for a prospect.

"Hellickson was good ... he's got that changeup that keeps hitters off balanced and he locates it extremely well," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He locates his secondary stuff as well as his fastball."

Hector Neris, Mackanin's closer of choice for the second straight day, collected his second save in as many nights. He ran into some trouble, namely a home run to the first batter he faced and a 24-minute rain delay that followed, but still managed to collect three outs before the Braves could get a second run across.

"The game is the game, no matter what inning," Neris said. "Every day if I'm ready to pitch, I can go pitch in (either) the eighth or the ninth. Call me and I'm going."

"When he throws that split, and he throws it well, he's the best man for the job in my opinion," Mackanin said of Neris, who allowed three hits but before striking out Tyler Flowers to end the game. "He threw a couple of splits that didn't bite as much as you'd like. That last one did, though."


The offensive heroes on Friday: Cesar Hernandez and Aaron Altherr.

Altherr, a late addition to the lineup on Thursday after Michael Saunders was scratched with an illness, went 2-for-4 on Friday with an RBI double. He’s hitting .412 with three doubles in his last five games and also has a stolen base and an assist from right field during that span.

Altherr was starting in place of the injured Howie Kendrick on Friday. He may very well be Wally Pipping someone in the lineup, if not Kendrick, perhaps Saunders.

"Right now Altherr is our fourth outfielder," Mackanin said. "I'm going to get him in there as early and as often as I can. ... I'll keep getting him in there as much as I can."

"I’m just approaching it as going out and having fun and try to help the team win," Altherr said. "It’s unfortunate for Howie that he got the injury, and hopefully he can get back as soon as possible, but I’m just going have fun, make the most out of it, and hopefully get some wins."

The guy ahead of Saunders in the lineup, leadoff man Cesar Hernandez, went 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Here is how good Hernandez has been in his last 162 games, which includes a poor May of 2016: .298/.375/.408, nine home runs, 11 triples, 15 doubles and 71 walks.


The defensive hero of the game: Odubel Herrera for this ridiculous catch in the eighth inning:

Everybody Loves Odubel.


The Phillies won the game despite Freeman's seventh home run of the season. Only Milwaukee's Eric Thames (eight) has more home runs in all of baseball.

I'm not sure anyone can match this, though:
"He's one of the best hitters we've got in the game," Hellickson said. "You've just got to make pitches. That wasn't a good pitch."

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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