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."