Phillies opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson: 'I'm ready'

Phillies opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson: 'I'm ready'

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The scene on Monday will be much different when Jeremy Hellickson takes the mound in a full ballpark and faces a major league lineup in his second straight opening day start.

Hellickson tuned-up for that outing against the Cincinnati Reds with four innings of work in an intrasquad game at the Phillies' minor-league complex on Wednesday afternoon.

The attendance was about 30 -- a handful of fans, a dozen or so minor-league players who were done with their day, several club officials, an osprey and four seagulls.

"I'm ready," Hellickson said when the outing was over. "It's been a long spring but now that it's over it feels like it went by fast."

Pitching coach Bob McClure wanted Hellickson to make his final start of the spring in a controlled setting so "I could get four up-and-downs and keep it to around 15 pitches per inning," Hellickson said. The right-hander gave up just one hit and struck out three.

"I've been feeling good every start, but the last couple, the fastball has been coming out really well and the stuff's been feeling good," Hellickson said.

Including this outing, Hellickson made seven starts this spring, pitched 28 1/3 innings and gave up 32 hits and 16 earned runs. He struck out 20 and walked six.

The right-hander, who will turn 30 on April 8, went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season. He pitched 189 innings.

His personal goal for this season?

"Stay healthy," he said. "Make 33 starts. Two-hundred innings. I haven't gotten there yet, but that's always one of them."

Hellickson is the Phillies' highest-paid player at $17.2 million. There's a pretty good chance the team will look to trade him in July as it clears the way for younger pitchers who fit better into the rebuild.

Hellickson dealt with those rumors last year and was unfazed.

Entering the season, he is focused on pitching well and seeing if the Phils can surprise some folks.

"I guess it's just like last year," he said. "We believe in ourselves. There's a lot of good players in there, especially with the position players getting another year of experience and seeing the rotations they have to face for a full year and now getting back in there -- that will be big for those guys.

"I think we've got a good team. We just can't lose 14 in a row or nine out of 10 like we did last year. I feel good about us."

It starts for real on Monday.

Hellickson is ready.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

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MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).