Phillies

Coincidence? Trade candidate Jeremy Hellickson and prospect Jake Thompson pitch on same night

Coincidence? Trade candidate Jeremy Hellickson and prospect Jake Thompson pitch on same night

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The Phillies entered this season, the second in a rebuilding effort, with no real expectations of making the postseason. Still, the Phils played well enough for two stretches in the first half — one early, one late — to find themselves on the periphery of the National League wild-card race when they returned from the All-Star break Friday night.

“What are we, six games out of the wild card?” manager Pete Mackanin, peppy and well-rested after the break, said before his team got back to work against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park. “Why not? Let’s set our sights high.”

A few hours later, Mackanin wasn’t quite as upbeat.

“Well, that’s not the way we wanted to start the homestand,” he said after watching his team absorb a 5-3 loss to the New York Mets (see Instant Replay).

The Mets have won 21 of their last 28 games in Philadelphia, dating to June 2013.

The Phillies averaged 5.73 runs per game over their final 16 games before the break, but scored just three unearned runs in this game.

They had just five hits and only one for extra bases.

Bartolo Colon, the Mets’ rotund, 43-year-old, All-Star right-hander set the tone for the night by opening the game with 4 1/3 perfect innings. He ran out of gas on a steamy night when the Phillies sent eight men to the plate in the sixth inning and scored three unearned runs, one on Peter Bourjos’ RBI triple.

“Colon was typical Colon,” Mackanin said. “He’s got deception, movement and excellent command. We finally got to him in the sixth, but their bullpen shut us down.”

Phillies starter Jeremy Hellickson marveled at Colon a little bit.

“He lets his movement do everything,” Hellickson said. “He throws strikes and lets his defense do the work, and that’s the name of the game. He can throw that two-seamer and start it wherever he wants and end it wherever he wants and it’s tough to square up. It is pretty impressive what he’s doing at his age.”

Hellickson allowed four runs over six innings. All came on homers, a solo shot by Juan Lagares in the third and a three-run shot by Neil Walker in the sixth. Walker’s home came on a full-count fastball with no outs after Hellickson gave up a pair of singles to open the inning.

Hellickson is 6-7 with a 4.03 ERA in 19 starts. He was quite dejected after this loss.

“That’s how I feel every time I lose,” he said. “The way Colon was pitching, I have to keep it a one-run game.”

It was not surprising that the Phillies set up their rotation to have Hellickson leading off the second half. At 29, he is the elder statesman on a young Phillies’ staff. He was the Phils’ opening day starter back in April.

What was interesting about Hellickson’s place in the post-break rotation is it coincided with Jake Thompson’s place in Triple A Lehigh Valley’s post-break rotation. It was probably no coincidence at all that Thompson also pithed Friday night. It’s mid-July. The trade deadline is approaching. Plenty of teams are looking for a back-end, veteran starter like Hellickson and he is very much available. Hellickson will be a free agent at season’s end.

If Hellickson is traded in the next couple of weeks, Thompson could slide seamlessly into the Phillies’ rotation. The 22-year-old right-hander is on one heck of a roll. He pitched seven scoreless innings in a 10-0 win over Buffalo on Friday night. Thompson has given up just four earned over 56 1/3 innings in his last eight starts. He has surrendered just one home run in that span. It’s only a matter of time before he gets a look in Philadelphia.

Hellickson knows the reality of the business. He’s been mentioned as a mid-season trade candidate since the Phillies acquired him in November.

“Yeah, it's on my mind, just when I see it on Twitter or talk to you guys about it,” he said after Friday night's game. “But other than that, I'm focused every day doing what I have to do to get ready for my next start. Like I've said all along, I love it here. I'd love to be here the rest of the year, but obviously I've been through it before and know that side of the game. But, yeah, my focus is on here and my next start right now.

“When or if [a trade] happens, I’ll deal with it then. But right now my focus is here.”

The Phillies are seven games under .500. Like Mackanin, Hellickson believes the Phils can be players for a wild card.

“I feel like we can definitely do it,” he said. “We just have to string some wins together like we did at the end of the first half.

“Obviously this wasn’t a good start today. But I absolutely think we can make a run at it.”

Zack Wheeler pitches a gem, Phillies bats come alive for 11 runs in win over Yankees

Zack Wheeler pitches a gem, Phillies bats come alive for 11 runs in win over Yankees

The Phillies got a strong start from Zack Wheeler and plenty of offense as they beat the New York Yankees, 11-7, in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday at Citizens Bank Park.

Wheeler pitched six innings in the seven-inning affair. He gave up six hits, walked two and struck out two. He has won both of his starts with the Phillies and allowed just four runs (three earned) in 13 innings.

The Phillies, who were the visiting team in Game 1, erased a three-run deficit with four runs in the top of the third inning. They added six runs on six singles and a New York error in the sixth inning.

The leaky bullpen, of course, struggled, but the Phils built a big enough lead to survive.

Bryce Harper clubbed a two-run homer in the third inning. He left the game in the sixth inning after running down the first base line and being checked by an athletic trainer. It was apparently a precautionary move as Harper was in the Game 2 lineup.

J.T. Realmuto also homered for the Phillies, who are now 2-3. Wheeler has both of the team’s wins. 

The Phils will be the home team in Game 2. Aaron Nola will start the game.

It’s never easy

With his team leading, 11-3, manager Joe Girardi removed Wheeler at 87 pitches and entrusted the final three outs to his very shaky bullpen. Lefty Austin Davis was quickly mugged for four runs, three on Aaron Judge’s seventh homer of the season. 

After Trevor Kelley walked a tight rope and put two men on base, Girardi had to bring in closer Hector Neris to get the final out. That might sound insignificant, but it wasn’t, not with a second game to play. Neris threw just one pitch in earning the save. We’ll see if that affects his availability for Game 2.

Unhappy return

Sixteen years after being selected by the Phillies in the third round of the 2004 draft, lefty J.A. Happ faced his original team. Happ and Cole Hamels are the only two members of the 2008 World Series championship team still active.

It was not a pleasant return to CBP for the 37-year-old Happ. He allowed four runs in the top of the third inning to lose a 3-0 lead. The big hit in the frame was Harper’s two-run homer on an 0-2 pitch. Happ walked six batters, including four in the third inning. One of them came with the bases loaded.

Speaking of ...

... Homers on 0-2 counts. The Phillies gave up a whopping 16 of them last season. That was the most in the National League and second-most in the majors behind the Angels, who gave up 18.

In five games this season, Phillies pitchers have already allowed two 0-2 homers. Nola gave up one on a breaking ball in his first start and Wheeler gave up one (also on a breaking ball) to Brett Gardner in the second inning of this game. Other than that, Wheeler was very good.

Stay hot

Girardi went with a right-handed heavy batting order against the lefty Happ. Phil Gosselin started at third and Jean Segura moved to shortstop. Lefty-hitting Didi Gregorius did not start. He entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the fifth and stayed on at shortstop with Segura moving to third.

Gosselin had two plate appearances. He doubled and pushed home a run with a bases-loaded walk in the third.

For the season, Gosselin is 5 for 8 with two homers and a double. He has reached base safely eight times in his 11 plate appearances.

A kick start?

Rhys Hoskins fell behind 0-2 against reliever Nick Nelson in the sixth inning. He then drove a single to left field for his first RBI of the season. Maybe the hit will help Hoskins get going. He was 2 for 15 before the hit. 

On defense

Segura made an error at shortstop that cost Wheeler and the Phillies a run in the first inning. Segura atoned with a nice play to start a double play in the fourth.

The Phils turned three double plays behind Wheeler. Wheeler benefited from four double plays in his first start. Not a bad trend.

Spencer for hire?

Before Game 1, Girardi announced his pitching rotation for the week. Nola will pitch the second game of the doubleheader. Zach Eflin will pitch Thursday against the Yankees and Vince Velasquez and Jake Arrieta will pitch the first two games of the Atlanta series on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Girardi said Sunday’s starter against the Braves was “to be determined.” It seems reasonable that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard could make his major-league debut that day. Girardi had previously said that he and team officials would discuss the possibility of Howard getting that start. Stay tuned.

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Bryce Harper exits with apparent tweak after best inning of Phillies' season

Bryce Harper exits with apparent tweak after best inning of Phillies' season

It may have been strictly precautionary, but the Phillies removed Bryce Harper in the bottom of the sixth inning Wednesday in the first game of their doubleheader after he appeared to tweak something during a swing.

Harper moved with a slight limp after the swing but appeared to be OK. He was visited by a trainer at first base and ran for himself in the top of the sixth after that healthy hack. The Phillies were up 11-3 when Joe Girardi pulled him, and there's another game 35 minutes after the first one ends, so they could just be playing it safe. We'll know more when the Phillies' Game 2 lineup comes out.

(Update: Harper was in the Game 2 lineup, so this was clearly a precautionary move.)

Earlier in the game, Harper hit a two-run home run to start the Phillies' scoring. Five games into his season, he has two homers, five RBI and a 1.054 OPS.

That sixth inning for the Phillies was their best all season. They scored six runs and had four hits with runners in scoring position after totaling just five in their first four games.

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