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April 27, 2017

Phillies keep Stanton in check (again), win sixth straight

Remember when Giancarlo Stanton used to step into the batter’s box and strike fear into the patrons of Citizens Bank Park and, very likely, the home pitchers, too?

It wasn’t that long ago, really.

From 2012 to 2014, Stanton hit .294 with nine home runs and an .849 OPS in 36 games against the Phillies. He looked like, well, the ideal version of Giancarlo Stanton: an imposing batter in the box who built up his prestigious power stats regularly against Phils’ pitching.

But something happened since the beginning of 2015. The Phils began to figure Stanton out.

Coming into Thursday’s matinee between the Phillies and Marlins, Stanton was hitting just .178 with four home runs and a .641 OPS in 23 games against the Phillies since the start of 2015. Manager Pete Mackanin was asked about the turnaround prior to the series but mostly kept mum, wisely not wanting to divulge his team’s gameplan.

Whatever the Phillies are doing, it’s still working.

Veteran reliever Pat Neshek escaped a jam and ended a Marlins rally by striking Stanton out on four pitches with two runners on and two outs in the seventh inning and the Phillies finished a two-game sweep over Miami with a 3-2 victory.

"Try not to let him hit it 500 feet?" Neshek joked when asked about the strategy against Stanton.

The 36-year-old, side-arm throwing reliever laughed. 

"I don’t know – he’s really good," Neshek said of the owner of the richest contract in baseball history. "You’ve kind of got to concentrate a little more and make sure you hit your spot. There are just days when he’s hot and he beats you. I’m just trying to make a good pitch there."

With runners on first and second, two outs, and the Marlins trailing by one run, Neshek quickly got ahead of Stanton with two sliders, the first coming in at 82-MPH, the second humming in at 91-MPH. After the 6-foot-6 Marlins slugger fouled off the third pitch, another slider, but one outside the strike zone, Neshek fired off a fourth, about belt-high and over the heart of the plate.

It worked, for a swinging strike three.

"Huge," Mackanin said.

"I just like to change speeds," Neshek said. "I thought if I could get my slider to run a little bit, he had a weird swing at the one before. Usually if I can get it to move a little bit it’s how I have success."

The win was the sixth straight for the Phillies. It’s the longest current win streak in baseball.

Jeremy Hellickson held Miami to one run in six innings to improve to 4-0 on the young season. Hellickson has a 1.80 ERA through four games in 2017.

Hellickson, probably not coincidentally, has owned Stanton throughout his career. Stanton is just 2-for-18 (.111) lifetime off Hellickson; it's his second-lowest average against any pitcher he's faced more than 15 times.

One of those two hits came on Thursday afternoon, when Stanton ripped a 274-foot double to left field (and later scored in the inning). The exit velocity of Stanton's double: 99.6 MPH.

"I'm glad he didn't hit that one in the air, that's for sure," Hellickson said. "We’ve got some pretty good pitching coaches that have a pretty good scouting report. It’s just making pitches. ... We’ve been keeping it down for the most part and mixing it up as best as we can."

Thanks to Hellickson's start Thursday, Phillies starters have allowed three earned runs or fewer in 10 of their last 11 games, combining for a 3.17 ERA over that span. Before the current run, the same starting staff had a combined 5.09 ERA in the team's first nine games. 

The ability of the collective staff (both starters and relievers) to keep Stanton in check – he has one home run in his last 12 games against the Phillies – helped them leave town with a perfect, 5-0 homestand.

"It’s like with anybody," Mackanin said, "if you make quality pitches against quality hitters, more often than not you’re going to get them out. And for whatever reason, we’ve seemed to make more quality pitches against that guy. I don’t know if they focus more or whatever. Maybe they don't want him to hit the ball back up the middle on them. That’s scary."


• Edubray Ramos' status for Friday's game against the Dodgers in Los Angeles isn't immediately known. Ramos had to leave Thursday's game after taking a 104.4 MPH line drive off the bat of Adeiny Hechavarria off his right elbow. 

"I don't have any info on Ramos," Mackanin said after the game. "I'm anxious to hear (something) on him."

• The Phillies announced that Tuesday's rainout with the Marlins will be made up as part of a single-admission doubleheader on Tueday, August 22. The first game starts at 4:05 p.m., with gates opening a half hour beforehand. Fans who had tickets to the postponed game (April 25) can exhange them for tickets to the doubleheader or for any other 2017 game at Citizens Bank Park. 

• The Phillies swept consecutive series against National League East opponents for the first time since Sept. 12-20 of 2012, when they took six straight games over the Marlins and Mets.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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