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August 20, 2016

Hellickson gives innings, Hernandez flirts with cycle in Phillies win

For the second time this month, the Phillies will have two days off in a four-day span after they wrap up their three-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.

Pete Mackanin was looking forward to it, and not because he’s headed to home to the South Side of Chicago this week when his team takes on the White Sox. He was looking forward to it because he knows his relievers need some rest.

“We talked about getting another pitcher for tonight,” the manager said of his overworked bullpen that’s made the Allentown-Philadelphia commute nearly a weekly occurrence for the likes of Luis Garcia.

The Phillies entered play Saturday having gone 24 straight days (21 games) without a starting pitcher giving them seven innings. And before Thursday, the Phillies had gone eight straight games without a pitcher giving them at least six innings.

“I finally get a guy to give us six innings last night, and we play 11 (innings),” Mackanin said with a laugh Saturday afternoon, referring to Friday night’s extra-inning loss. “But Jeremy (Hellickson) is capable of doing that. We’re just going to hold off (on adding another pitcher) unless something happens tonight where we have to go deep into the bullpen again, we’re going to have to make a move, get one or two arms.”

On Saturday night, relief came in the form of a starting pitcher for once.

Jeremy Hellickson, making his first start in 10 days, held the Cardinals to two runs in seven sharp innings while Cesar Hernandez flirted with a cycle in the Phillies 4-2 victory.

"Just what the doctor ordered," Mackanin said of Hellickson delivering seven innings.

Hellickson was the first Phillies starter to pitch at least seven innings since Jerad Eickhoff on July 26. The streak of 6 2/3 innings or fewer by Phillies starters was the longest since 1913.

Hellickson said he was aware of the rotation's 21-game stretch, but it wasn't something he specifically took the mound with as motivation.

"I hear it and read it," he said. "I don’t know about the rest of the guys. It’s nothing we think about, we’ve had a few games where we’ve been cruising and something happens. But it was good to save the bullpen a little tonight."

Hernandez, who has been one of baseball’s best at reaching base for the last two months, hit his first career leadoff home run to begin the night and came a triple away from hitting for the cycle. Hernandez, who leads all of baseball in triples, struck out in his fourth and final at-bat of the night in the seventh inning.

Maikel Franco, who doubled and scored in the first inning, snapped a 2-2 tie with a two-out single in the fifth inning to give the Phillies the lead for good. Aaron Altherr added insurance an inning later with his fourth home run in 21 games since returning from the disabled list.

But given what the Phillies bullpen and their manager have endured in the last 3 1/2 weeks, Hellickson’s performance may have been the most critical. After being pushed back after leaving his most recent start (August 10) with a rib cage/back injury, Hellickson struck out the side in the first inning on Saturday night.

Hellickson scattered seven hits and struck out eight while walking one in seven innings. The only two runs he allowed came on one swing, a two-run home run from St. Louis leadoff hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker that tied the game in the third inning.

Hellickson allowed just one more runner to reach scoring position after the third-inning home run. He finished as strong as he started, retiring eight of the last nine batters he faced, and each of the last six, three on strikeouts.

And he did it against a Cardinals team that leads the National League in home runs and came into the night with a chance to tie a major league record for consecutive games with multiple home runs. They had hit at least two home runs in eight straight entering Saturday.

"I think the biggest thing was just getting ahead, that’s an aggressive lineup," Hellickson said. "So just getting ahead and making quality 0-0 pitches, I was able to throw my off-speed (pitches) for strikes and keep my fastball down for the most part."

After Hector Neris pitched a scoreless eighth, Jeanmar Gomez bounced back from his blown save on Friday by collecting his 33rd save of the season (with a little help from his middle infielders).

"We turned 3 double plays tonight, but that last one to end the game, that was a major-league double play," Mackanin said. "What a job both of those guys did."

In a rotation crowded with rookies or second-year pitchers, Saturday night's game drove home the importance of complementing those young and talented arms with a dependable veteran.

"You’ve got a guy like Hellickson that can give you the seven innings that we needed," Mackanin said. "He probably could have given us another, but we have a couple of good guys in our bullpen to finish it off. All in all, it was a great night for us." 

 Aaron Altherr's home run to lead off the sixth inning was the first a Phillies player had hit off veteran reliever Jonathan Broxton since Matt Stairs' pinch-hit, game-winning blast in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS at Dodger Stadium. Broxton had gone 20 straight games (postseason and regular season) without giving up a home run to a Phillies player prior to Altherr's ... but he did allow this hit during that stretch:


 • Hector Neris has a 0.80 WHIP to go along with 40 strikeouts and just three walks in his last 29 games (30 innings).

 Jeremy Hellickson's 1.98 walk rate (33 walks in 150 innings) ranks eighth best in the N.L. If he keeps it up, Hellickson would become the first Phillies starter to finish a season with fewer than two walks per nine innings since Cliff Lee (1.29) in 2013.

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