Braves 3, Phillies 2: Hellickson builds innings quickly, Franco impresses skipper

Braves 3, Phillies 2: Hellickson builds innings quickly, Franco impresses skipper

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It's only March 8 and already projected Phillies opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson has worked his way up to four innings in an outing.

"I don’t think I've ever gotten to four innings this fast," the right-hander said after his outing Wednesday afternoon against the Atlanta Braves.

Jerad Eickhoff is scheduled to pitch four innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday.

Things are moving just a tad quicker this spring because teams reported to camp a few days earlier because of the World Baseball Classic.

Hellickson gave up five hits and two runs in his four innings of work Wednesday. He projects to make four more starts before the April 3 season opener in Cincinnati. To slow the clock just a little, he said he expects to get an extra day of rest between at least two of those starts. That will be the plan for the entire rotation.

Hellickson is happy with his progress.

"I felt great," he said. "I'm very pleased where I'm at. The ball is coming out great."

Manager Pete Mackanin liked the look of Hellickson's changeup Wednesday.

Hellickson likes the way his curveball feels.

He led the majors in spin rate on his curveball last season and opposing batters hit just .161 and slugged just .264 against the pitch.

Teammate Vince Velasquez is trying to improve his curveball this spring. He ranked 74th in the majors in spin rate last season among the 117 pitchers who threw 200 or more curveballs. If Velasquez can improve the spin on his curveball he will be able to bury it down in the strike zone where hitters can't hurt him. Velasquez left too many curveballs up last season, a big reason why batters hit .297 and slugged .581 against the pitch.

"If Vinny gets that pitch going, he's going to be tough," Hellickson said.

Not much offense
The Phillies eked out a first-inning run against Braves starter Bartolo Colon but had only four hits on the day and lost, 3-2.

The Phils are 7-5-2 on the spring.

Maikel Franco and Roman Quinn drove in the Phillies' runs. Quinn had a base hit and Franco took advantage of an infield-back situation and picked up and RBI on a groundout to second in the first inning.

Mackanin was pleased with that at-bat.

"Ground ball to the right side, get an RBI," Mackanin said. "It takes time, but he's starting to use the middle of the field. If he continues to do that, he's going to be real successful. He had 88 RBIs last year. Those are the kind of RBIs that are easy to get and can take you to 100."

Up next
Eickhoff will start against Blue Jays lefty Francisco Liriano in Clearwater on Thursday.

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

Phillies trim roster, send Tyler Goeddel, Jake Thompson to minors

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- With a week to go before they leave Florida, the Phillies made several roster moves on Friday morning.

Outfielder Tyler Goeddel, who spent all of last season in the majors, was optioned to the minor leagues.

Pitcher Jake Thompson, who made 10 starts in the majors for the Phillies last season, was also optioned to the minors. He is expected to open the season in the starting rotation at Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Goeddel, 24, joined the Phillies organization in December 2015 after being selected in the Rule 5 draft. He had originally been a first-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.

Players selected in the Rule 5 draft must spend an entire season in the majors or be exposed to waivers and offered back to their original club. The Phillies kept Goeddel all of last season, fully securing his rights, but he received only 213 at-bats and hit just .192 with four homers and 16 RBIs.

The news on Goeddel was not completely surprising. The wintertime additions of outfielders Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders had made Goeddel a long shot to make the team.

"I knew going into camp I was going to have to earn my spot," he said. "There's a lot of guys in here that have been playing well. Whatever happened happened."

Goeddel needs to recoup some at-bats in the minor leagues. The question is: where? The Phillies have three top outfield prospects -- Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens -- who will require regular playing time at Triple A. It's possible that Goeddel could open the season at Double A.

Team officials discussed that possibility with him.

"They want me to get more at-bats," Goeddel said. "That's the main thing. Only getting 200 in your age-23 season is not enough.

"They said there's a chance I'm at Reading. I'm not too happy about that but you can't control it. That's where their most openings are and most consistent playing time.

"I want to play every day. It was tough last year playing sparingly. Getting at-bats is going to be great. Obviously, I wish it was up here. But at the end of the day, you can't control it."

Goeddel is still on the 40-man roster and as long as he stays on it can come back to the majors quite easily if a need arises.

"They said that," Goeddel said. "Last year (pitcher Alec) Asher started at Double A and was called up. They said that in there. They just want me to get at-bats. That was their main thing."

Thompson could be one of the first to return to the majors if a need arises in the starting rotation.

The 23-year-old right-hander was one of five prospects that the Phillies acquired from Texas for Cole Hamels in July 2015. He went 11-5 with a 2.50 ERA in 21 starts at Triple A last season and 3-6 with a 5.70 ERA with the big club.

The Phils also reassigned pitcher Dalier Hinojosa, catcher Logan Moore and infielder Hector Gomez to minor-league camp.

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

Twins 4, Phillies 2: Aaron Nola encouraged by good health, still looking for command

BOX SCORE

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Aaron Nola has not had a great spring.

But in the big picture, well, maybe he has.

Nola was one of the Phillies' biggest and most important question marks coming into camp. He had missed the final two months of the 2016 season because of an elbow injury. All he needed to do this spring to be in the starting rotation was show that he was healthy.

He's done that.

He pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Minnesota Twins and threw 82 pitches in his fifth start of the spring on Thursday. He gave up six hits, including a two-run homer, walked one and struck out six.

He's up to 17 2/3 innings for the spring -- without an elbow issue.

"I'm over that," Nola said after the game. "My elbow feels really good. I haven't had any pain or problems with it. I don't even think about it throwing or in games.

"Everything has been very positive. My body is healthy."

Nola, who lines up to fill the fifth spot in the Phillies' rotation, hasn't had good results this spring. He has given up 19 hits and 13 earned runs. But, again, the Phillies were only looking for good health.

"He's been working on his changeup," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Today, he threw more changeups than I've ever seen him throw. The changeup he threw for the home run, he admitted, 'I would never throw that pitch in a game.' But he's working on it, trying to get it going for him, and I think it's going to be a good pitch for him. 

"He really pitched better than the result he got. He had a lot of work with his changeup, which is important. He was as sharp as we've seen him."

Coming into camp, Mackanin was concerned about Nola's health.

"I'm less concerned right now," the manager said. "It's always going to be in the back of my mind. But it's good to see 92, 93, 94 (mph) coming out of his hand, which is important. Once he regains that command, and he showed real good command of his fastball down in the zone today, he's going to be back to where he was -- with even maybe a little more velocity. We'll see. But the changeup is going to help him. I'm very encouraged."

The game
The Phillies lost, 4-2, to the Twins.

The Phils had 10 hits, two by Odubel Herrera, who homered.

Andrew Knapp, pushing to make the club, started behind the plate and had a double.

The Phillies were just 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left nine men on base.

The Phils' bullpen -- Sean Burnett, Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris -- accounted for 3 1/3 innings of scoreless ball.

Up next
The Phils play the Yankees in Tampa on Friday. Jeremy Hellickson will start against CC Sabathia.