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September 23, 2016

Hellickson, Phillies hit hard in second straight loss to Mets

NEW YORK – Jeremy Hellickson has had a fine season in Philadelphia, one that will lead to some interesting decisions in the coming months.

Do the Phillies tender him a qualifying offer, and risk having him on their payroll for around $17 million in 2017? Will that qualifying offer affect how much interest he receives as a free agent (since teams have to part with a draft pick)? Has he pitched well enough that none of the first two things should matter and he’ll easily receive a multi-year deal on the open market?

Here’s what we did know entering Friday’s game at Citi Field: Heading into the night, only eight National League pitchers had made at least 30 starts this season with an ERA under 3.60.

The durable and dependable eight: Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jon Lester, Kenta Maeda, Tanner Roark, Bartolo Colon, and, yes, Hellickson.

Here’s what we knew following Friday night’s at Citi Field: Hellickson no longer fits that criteria.

Hellickson, who will file for free agency for the first time in his career in about six weeks and entered Friday with a 3.24 ERA in eight starts since not being traded at the trade deadline, did not have a good night. Or, more specifically, he did not have a good fifth inning in Flushing.

Armed with a 3-1 lead entering the inning, Hellickson gave up a hit or a walk to five of the six batters he faced before exiting and watched his successor, Frank Herrmann, immediately serve up a crushing home run to Michael Conforto as the Mets kept their postseason hopes afloat with a 10-5 win over the Phillies.

"Well, that was a shame," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Hellickson wasn’t on his game. He didn’t locate well and then he walked those (two) guys in that one inning. (And) they threw a bullpen game against us, so that’s tough to take."

If Thursday’s night’s series opener sent Mets fans into a celebratory mode after their team homered twice after the eighth inning to first tie and then win it, Friday was the hangover for the Phillies.

They sprung to life early, scoring three runs in the first three innings off one of the anonymous members of the Mets rag tag rotation. In the second, Freddy Galvis and Cody Asche hit one-out singles and Cesar Hernandez and Roman Quinn hit back-to-back two-out base hits. After the Mets answered back with a run, Maikel Franco got it back in the third, ripping his second home run in as many nights (and team-leading 24th of the season) deep into the left field seats.

Darin Ruf also hit a long home run on Friday, a pinch-hit shot in the sixth, his first of the season. In between, there was an awful lot of ugliness at Citi Field.

Hellickson was charged with six runs on seven hits and three walks in 4 1/3 innings. It was just the fourth time in 31 starts that he failed to pitch at least five innings, and the fifth time he allowed more than four runs in a start.

"He’s our best pitcher at this point and he deserves an opportunity to pitch out of his own trouble," Mackanin said of sticking with Hellickson after an RBI single to Curtis Granderson following back-to-back walks. "A guy like that, you let him work out of it, give him a chance to get a win. But he walked those three guys. He wasn’t at his best, obviously."

Hellickson is 1-2 with a 8.36 ERA in three starts at Citi Field this season. He is 11-8 with a 3.41 ERA everywhere else.

"Fastball command, just couldn't find it," he said. "I feel like it's a problem every time I come here. In one inning, I lose the fastball command. I kind of get a little too predictable and then before I know it I'm at 30-35 pitches in the inning. 

"It's just a combination of losing command and it's a good lineup. They put some good at-bats together and made me work and I couldn't make a big pitch when I needed to."

But each of the three relievers that followed Hellickson (in a series where neither manager has been afraid to make use of the never-ending ‘pen in their expanded September rosters) all allowed at least one run, too. Hermann. Colton Murray. Patrick Schuster.

The Phillies and Mets used 11 pitchers before the eighth inning after using 19 pitchers on Thursday night. And there’s no telling if Saturday will be any better as the Phils will send still-unproven Alec Asher to the mound against Mets emergency starter Sean Gilmartin, summoned into action because Noah Syndergaard has strep throat.

Yes, we’re only two games (and eight hours) into a four-game series at Citi Field. Buckle in.

 • Surprisingly, Michael Conforto's home run was the only one the Mets hit on Friday night against Phillies pitchers. The Mets have hit 29 home runs in 14 games against the Phils this season and, since the start of 2015, have hit 64 home runs against their NL East rivals in 33 games. 

 The Mets have hit a single-season franchise best 209 home runs this season overall, with 109 of them coming at Citi Field.

• With Jeremy Hellickson getting beat up in the fifth, the Phillies run of consecutive starts of allowing three earned runs or fewer came to an end. Phils starters had gone 19 straight games of allowing three or fewer earned runs, their longest since Sept. 12-30 in 1986 (also 19 straight games). 

 • The Phillies are 15-8 when Maikel Franco homers in a game this season (and 24-12 in his career).

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21