Jeremy Hellickson pitches well again, and that's a win-win situation for Phillies

Jeremy Hellickson pitches well again, and that's a win-win situation for Phillies

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Jeremy Hellickson is off to a terrific start for the Phillies in 2017 and that's good on a lot of levels.

It's good because even though the Phillies are a rebuilding club that is not expected to challenge for the postseason, it's still nice to win ballgames and so far the team has done that all four times that Hellickson has taken the mound this season.

It's good for Hellickson because he will hit the free-agent market this winter and putting up good numbers could translate into dollar signs for him.

It's also good for the Phillies' rebuild because any success that Hellickson has over the first few months of the season could build the right-hander's trade value and help the Phils bring back a solid young player in a deal with a contender that's looking for a veteran starter.

Hellickson pitched a beauty on Friday night in leading the Phillies to a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay). He scattered three hits and two runs over seven innings, did not walk a batter and struck out five.

The 30-year-old right-hander has walked just three batters over 24 innings this season. He is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in four starts. After watching potential trade chip Clay Buchholz go down with a season-ending elbow injury, general manager Matt Klentak no doubt has his fingers crossed that Hellickson keeps this up right into the July trading season. Hellickson's salary is steep -- $17.2 million -- but the Phils have made it clear in recent seasons that they would eat money to get back talent that they like.

Hellickson out-pitched Bartolo Colon, the portly, 43-year-old right-hander who often gave the Phillies fits during his time with the Mets. Like Hellickson, Colon relies on command of his fastball and change of speed.

"I love watching him pitch," Hellickson said.

The Phillies' bats got to Colon for 11 hits and four runs in seven innings. Aaron Altherr, who is getting more playing time and doing something with it as Howie Kendrick has gone to the DL, had a single and an RBI double against Colon.

"He throws a lot of fastballs, a lot of strikes, so you have to be ready to hit every pitch," Altherr said of Colon. "You know what you're going to get from him. He's always going to throw that little running fastball and sinker, you just have to be ready to hit."

Cesar Hernandez had three hits against Colon and Freddy Galvis, Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco drove in runs. Franco's RBI came on a groundout in the seventh. It gave the Phillies a two-run lead and that became huge when Hector Neris gave up a leadoff homer to Adonis Garcia in the top of the ninth.

Garcia hit the homer with heavy rain falling and the game was delayed 24 minutes. Neris retook the mound after the delay, got two outs, then allowed two hits before striking out Tyler Flowers to preserve the one-run victory.

Neris is 2 for 2 in save chances since moving into the closer's role. He still hasn't chosen his entry song, but said he would probably have something Saturday night.

"It's a surprise," he said.

Let's hope that surprise is not from the Jonathan Papelbon files.

Joaquin Benoit preceded Neris with a scoreless eighth inning.

Hellickson threw only 90 pitches in seven innings and could have kept going. But he had given up several hard-hit fly balls and manager Pete Mackanin wanted to change the look, so he went to the bullpen.

Hellickson was able to keep his pitch count down because he got quick outs and had quick innings. It all starts with his control and his ability to pinpoint his fastball. And that makes his changeup all that much better.

"My fastball command is better than it's been in a long time," said Hellickson, who is averaging just 13.5 pitches per inning. "I'm keeping it down. I'm not missing up. And that's really helping my changeup.

"I'd love to throw harder, but it's about keeping the ball down and mixing it up."

Mackanin approves of Hellickson's style of pitching.

"Very often softer is better," he said. "Hellickson understands that."

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Braves 3

Instant Replay: Phillies 4, Braves 3

BOX SCORE

Jeremy Hellickson turned in another strong start as the Phillies kicked off a homestand with a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.

The Phillies have won two in a row and four of their last six to run their record to 7-9.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson held the Braves to three hits and two runs over seven walk-free innings. He struck out five.

The 30-year-old right-hander is now 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in his first four starts of the season. He has gone seven innings in his last two.

Hellickson has walked just three batters in 24 innings.

Bartolo Colon performed his usual change-of-speeds act, but the Phils got to him for 11 hits and four runs over seven innings. The 43-year-old walked one and struck out four.

Bullpen report
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth for the Phillies.

Hector Neris came on for his second save chance in as many nights with the Phils up by two runs in the ninth inning. With heavy rain falling, Neris gave up a leadoff homer to Adonis Garcia to make it a one-run game. The game was then delayed for 24 minutes.

Neris stayed in the game when play resumed. He retired Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp for the first two outs then gave up hits to Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips before striking out Tyler Flowers with a full count to end the game.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis, Aaron Altherr, Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco drove in the Phillies' runs. Galvis and Joseph had singles. Altherr had a double. Franco got an important run home in the seventh with a ground out.

Cesar Hernandez had three hits for the Phils. He is hitting .324. Altherr and Cameron Rupp both had a pair of hits.

Freeman clubbed a long solo homer against Hellickson in the sixth. The Braves' first baseman has seven homers on the young season.

Health check
Outfielder Howie Kendrick did not believe he had an oblique strain, but an MRI showed that he does. Kendrick, who is on the 10-day disabled list, injured himself while throwing a week ago in Washington. Oblique injuries generally take a minimum of three weeks to heal so he could be looking at a couple of more weeks on the sidelines (see story).

The Phillies have filled Kendrick's roster spot with an extra reliever -- right-hander Mark Leiter Jr. -- while playing with a short bench. Manager Pete Mackanin said the club may look to add another position player in the coming days. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin or outfielder Roman Quinn would be likely candidates because they are on the 40-man roster.

In the field
Second baseman Hernandez and centerfielder Odubel Herrera both made long running catches for the Phils.

Transactions
Reliever Pat Neshek returned from paternity leave and pitcher Ben Lively was sent back to Triple A Lehigh Valley.

Up next
The series continues on Saturday night. Jerad Eickhoff (0-1, 2.75) pitches for the Phillies against lefty Jaime Garcia (0-1, 4.67).

Tonight's lineup: Herrera, Franco look to finally solve crafty Colon

Tonight's lineup: Herrera, Franco look to finally solve crafty Colon

Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco are a combined 6 for 43 (.140) off Bartolo Colon, but the Phillies are using their regular 3-4 tandem Friday night against the Braves.

Colon, 10-3 with a 3.01 ERA against the Phillies from 2014-16, has given both fits, particularly Franco (see story).

But the Phillies are riding some momentum into Friday night's game after scoring five runs off Mets ace Noah Syndergaard last night.

Now comes Colon, who throws about 10 mph slower but paints the outside corner with his fastball and sinker better than just about anyone (see game notes).

Franco broke out of a career-worst 0-for-22 slump last night with a rocket double off Syndergaard and an insurance home run off mediocre reliever Fernando Salas. The Phillies are hoping his .172 batting average continues to climb. It's early enough in the season that a 3-for-5 night would get him over .200.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Aaron Altherr, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Tommy Joseph, 1B
7. Cameron Rupp, C
8. Freddy Galvis, SS
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P