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May 13, 2016

Phils bunt their way to another one-run victory

When you don’t hit many home runs (only two teams in baseball have hit fewer) or extra-base hits (only three teams have fewer), it’s acceptable to try to bunt for base hits in an attempt to resuscitate a stagnant offense.

Three Phillies attempted bunts for base hits on Friday night against the Cincinnati Reds. All three were successful.

But the most successful bunt of the night (yes, there were four bunts!) came from pitcher Jeremy Hellickson after Tyler Goeddel redeemed himself from a critical error two innings earlier.

With two runs in and Goeddel on third, Hellickson surprised Reds starter Brandon Finnegan by bunting the first pitch the lefthander threw. Goeddel was already on his way racing toward home plate when Hellickson squared.

It was the last run either team would score in a 3-2 Phillies victory.

"He put down a perfect bunt," Goeddel said of the safety squeeze. "It was an easy read at third."

"If you execute that play, it works," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He executed. It won us the game."

The win was the fifth in the last six games for the Phillies (21-15), who are six games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2011 season. They improved to 13-3 this season in one-run games.

Only four other teams in baseball have played at least 12 one-run games and have a winning record (the Reds, Mets, and Giants, all 7-5; the Mariners, 8-5) and none are winning at the same clip as the Phillies.

"Pitching has a lot to do with it," said Mackanin, who got two more scoreless innings from his late-inning bullpen duo of Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez. "It tests your players, their ability to play well in close games And we’ve certainly done that all year. It’s a great feeling to know your guys are always in the game. It’s a great learning experience, it teaches them how to win those games. It’s a real bonus for us."

"I think we’re as mentally tough as any team I’ve played on, personally," said Goeddel, one of the aforementioned young players. "I wouldn’t be surprised if we keep this up for the rest of the year."

The Phils were down 2-0 entering the fourth inning after Reds eight-hole hitter Tucker Barnhart kept a two-out, second-inning rally alive by drilling a fly ball deep into the left field corner. Goeddel gave chase and appeared to have a catch lined up, but, instead, the ball caromed off his glove and two runs scored.

Two innings later, Goeddel stepped to the plate with one out and two one. He ripped a Finnegan offering the opposite way, down the right field line for his first career triple, to tie the game.

And then he scampered home on a bunt to give the unshakeable Phillies the lead for good.

"The play in the second inning is a play I should definitely make every time," Goeddel said. "I just took my eye off the ball. Helli was pitching so well, it didn’t feel good out there, I’ll tell you that. I was lucky enough to get a chance to redeem myself."

But the question remains unanswered: is four bunts-per-game going to become the new normal?

"We have to play small ball," Mackanin said. "We don’t have the pop that we’ve like to have, so in order to (win) we to play the little game and take some chances, I feel like we have to take some chances whether it’s hitting-and-running, stealing bases, (too). There are times we have to push the envelope because we have that type of team, we can’t sit back and wait for a three-run home run."

• Hellickson has had a bit of an up-and-down existence in his first six weeks as a Phillie, which was represented well with the 4.91 ERA he brought into Friday night’s start. But the good news for a front office that’d like to evaluate his status as a trade chip in two months is that two of his best starts have come in his last four turns.

For the second time in 17 days, Hellickson went seven innings without allowing an earned run. He struck out each of the first three batters he faced on Friday and finished the night with his best pitching line of the year: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K.

"My fastball command was a lot better than it’s been, that was the main thing," Hellickson said. "And that was probably the best changeup I’ve had this year, too."

It was the second time this season Hellickson had pitched at least six innings without allowing an earned run against the Reds. The other start was Opening Day.

Hellickson entered Friday having allowed five home runs in his last two starts with an ordinary 9-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10 2/3 innings.

 • Tommy Joseph’s big league debut was rather uneventful.

Joseph, the former catching prospect acquired for Hunter Pence who had to transition to first base after a series of concussions, received a warm ovation from the small but hearty Citizens Bank Park crowd when to the plate for his first major league at-bat. He worked a full count, but struck out.

Joseph walked in his second at-bat, and then struck out on three pitches in his third plate appearance. It’ll be interesting to see if Joseph starts over Ryan Howard in one of the next two games, when the Reds have right-handers on tap to start.

• Cody Asche began a rehab assignment at Class A Clearwater on Friday.

Asche will be the odds-on favorite for the regular left field job when he returns, which could be within the next two weeks. Asche, who suffered an oblique injury early in spring training and then re-injured it a month later, has been hitting for nearly two weeks.

“He just needs at-bats,” general manager Matt Klentak said. “He’s going through what most of these guys go through in spring training, getting the real, live, game action against live pitching. As soon as he’s ready to come up and contribute, we’ll be happy to take him off the rehab assignment.”

With Class A Clearwater scheduled to play across the state next week in Jupiter, it’s likely Asche takes his rehab assignment up north (Triple-A Lehigh Valley is home). Left-hander Mario Hollands, who underwent Tommy John surgery 13 months ago, also began a rehab assignment with Clearwater this week.

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