More Sports:

May 30, 2016

Hellickson sharp, but pulled prematurely as Phillies lose fourth straight

The trade deadline arrives two months from Wednesday. (They moved it to Aug. 1 just for this year).

The following is the list of potential veterans the Phillies could move before then to fetch a decent prospect:

Jeremy Hellickson.

This isn’t to say the Phillies don’t have any talent on their current roster. But after going the rebuild route a year and a half ago, the Phils have already shipped out nearly all of their 30-somethings and entered this season with two, newly-acquired pitchers entering the final year of their respective contracts who they hoped could provide innings early in the season, and then a nice return at the deadline.

Charlie Morton suffered a season-ending injury less than three weeks into the season. The 29-year-old Hellickson, meanwhile, has appeared to gain momentum with each passing start in the last month.

On a holiday evening at Citizens Bank Park, Hellickson held the first-place Washington Nationals to one run, a Daniel Murphy solo home run, in seven innings. He allowed only three hits in seven innings while striking out eight and walking no one.

He struck out six of the last nine hitters he faced entering the seventh. His pitch count was at 79 after seven.

But then manager Pete Mackanin inexplicably pinch hit for Hellickson – sure it was a one-run game, but the Phillies were 14-4 in one-run games this year coming in – and Hector Neris walked two of the first three batters he faced and the starter’s outing was wasted.

Neris walked three in the eighth, allowed a game-tying double to Jayson Werth, and a go-ahead, two-run single to Murphy, and the Nationals extended the Phillies losing streak with a 4-3 win.

"We thought (keeping Hellickson in) but we’ve had such a good combination with Neris and (closer Jeanmar) Gomez," Mackanin said. "We thought it was a good idea to get him out and go with the combination that’s been working so well for us."

The Phils, fresh off getting swept by baseball’s best team, the Chicago Cubs, at Wrigley Field, were six outs away from beating the second-best team in the National League, but, instead, dropped their fourth straight game. The Phillies (26-25) have lost eight of their last 10 games.

Sure, Mackanin could argue that Neris has been near-unhittable this year and perhaps in need of work after pitching in just two of the team’s last six games. But that shouldn’t come at the expense of the starting pitcher who was cruising, with, again, just 79 pitches on his arm, zero walks on his line, and one strikeout away from his season high.

Even Hellickson had to admit he was a little surprised to come out of the game after throwing fewer than 80 pitches.

"A little bit," Hellickson said. "I obviously would have loved to have a chance to finish that game. I felt like it was my game to win or lose. But at the same time you don’t really question going to Hector in that situation, he’s been one of or probably the best eighth-inning man in the game so far this year. So, you don’t really question that move."

You probably could question, at least, leaving Neris in after his outing had already gotten ugly (three walks) to face one of the best hitter's in the league (Murphy) with the bases loaded. Murphy is now 5-for-8 with two doubles and four RBI in nine career plate appearances against Neris.

"He’s our guy," Mackanin said of Neris. "I didn’t want to go to our closer there. He’s one pitch away."

It was a sour way to end Memorial Day for the 21,993 fans that came through the turnstiles on Monday, already bummed to see the .150-hitting first baseman in the lineup over the rookie (Tommy Joseph) who homered twice on last weeks’s six-game road trip.

  • The Phillies lost, but, again, Hellickson pitching well is perhaps the bigger thing to take from the game from the big picture standpoint.

The veteran right-hander, acquired from Arizona in a trade in November, is 3-1 with a 2.51 ERA in his last five starts. (And his ERA would probably be lower if it wasn’t for Maikel Franco misplaying ball in Detroit last week). Hellickson has struck out 32 batters while walking just four during that 32 1/3 inning span.

"When things are going good you just have a lot of confidence, (with) all your pitches," Hellickson said. "I feel like I’ve got good life on my fastball right now. I’m not afraid to throw that in hitter’s counts. And in this four-to-five game span, it’s probably the best my changeup has been in a long time."

If the Phillies were able to fetch two prospects for Roberto Hernandez two years ago, they should be able to get something attractive in return for Hellickson to add another piece an already-improved farm system in the next two months. As long as the rest of their pitchers remain healthy – which is a sizable 'if' given the fragile nature of pitchers in general – a possible Hellickson departure would open up a spot in the rotation for one of their Triple-A arms in the big league rotation (like Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson, or Ben Lively).

 Freddy Galvis gave Hellickson a one-run lead with a solo home run to lead off the sixth, inning. Galvis won't ever be known for his offense and it will surely move him to second base (and perhaps even a utility role) when J.P. Crawford eventually graduates to the major leagues. But Galvis (2-for-4 on Monday) is hitting .308 (20-for-65) with two home runs, five doubles, and a triple in his last 17 games. And his defense had Mackanin absolutely gushing on Sunday.

  • Tyler Goeddel, who was on the throwing end of the memorable, game-ending throw to Cameron Rupp earlier this month, did this on Monday night to complete the 'ol 7-3 double play. 

Bryce Harper, the base runner in that Goeddel play, who had been hit by a Hellickson pitch in the right knee just before this play, left the game after the seventh inning ended. It ended Harper's streak of homering in six consecutive games at Citizens Bank Park; dating back to last season, Harper had hit seven home runs in his last seven games in South Philly entering Monday.

Harper and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (1955) are the only two visiting players to home in six consecutive games in Philadelphia.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21