If you put an ear to the door of Matt Klentak’s box above home plate at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night, here’s what you might have heard:
Who could blame the Phillies first-year general manager if he shared a few celebratory fist bumps with his boys in the front office? This is the time of year to make deals, to add a few more pieces to the rebuild. And less than two weeks before the trade deadline, there’s a shiny new coat of paint on one of Klentak's best movable assets.
Trade candidate Jeremy Hellickson pitched his best game of the season as he joined Tyler Goeddel (three RBIs) in leading the Phillies to a 4-1 win over the Miami Marlins (see Instant Replay).
Hellickson pitched eight walk-free innings and gave up just five hits and a run. He used a moving fastball that he kept down in the zone and a good changeup to strike out eight batters. The outing had to have added a little luster to the 29-year-old right-hander’s trade value and a number of scouts, including one from the Baltimore Orioles, were in attendance to see it. The Orioles, according to a major league source, have discussed Hellickson as an addition to their rotation. The Marlins are another team that has kicked around the idea of adding Hellickson. Surely, their interest didn’t wane after seeing his work up close.
“I don't know what's going on [with trades],” manager Pete Mackanin said. “But if anybody does have interest, I'm sure they were impressed by tonight. He did a great job. Really good job.”
Hellickson will be a free agent this winter. From the time the Phillies acquired him from Arizona in November, he was viewed as a potential trade chip that could help the Phillies in their rebuild if he pitched well. In 20 starts, Hellickson is 7-7 with a 3.84 ERA. He has pitched six or more innings in each of his last eight starts, the best run of his career. He won’t fetch the price in a trade that Cole Hamels did a year ago. He’s not that kind of pitcher. But the Phils should be able to get a young arm with some upside from a contending team looking to add experience to the back end of its rotation.
If/when Hellickson gets traded, the Phillies will bring up Jake Thompson from Triple A. The 22-year-old right-hander pitched six more scoreless innings on Wednesday (see highlights). Over his last nine starts, he has given up just four earned runs in 62 1/3 innings.
Before the game, Mackanin praised Hellickson for his contributions and said he’d welcome those contributions for the remainder of the season. But Mackanin also said he was eager to see more young pitchers come up from the minors.
Hellickson said all the predictable things after the game. (The days of players openly wishing to leave ended with Jonathan Papelbon last summer.) He said he wanted to remain with the Phillies, but understands the business of the game, having been dealt twice before in his career.
“I guess I’m anxious just to get it over with,” he said. “Like I’ve said before, I want to be here. I want to win here. I really think we can if we just get on a little roll. My focus is here right now.”
Hellickson was asked if he would find it exciting to pitch for a contender.
“I feel like we’re a contender, so I would like to be here,” he said. “Again, I’ll worry about that when it happens.”
At 44-52 and eight games back in the wild-card race, the Phillies aren’t really contenders. Hellickson has been nothing short of a class act since the day he arrived, and he clearly will continue to be one as the deadline approaches.
He pitched a pretty classy game, too, Wednesday night.
“Fastball command and keeping the fastball down are always key for me,” he said. “The fastball was down tonight, so the changeup was working off that well. Me and Chooch (Carlos Ruiz) were together. I didn’t really shake off much. I just stayed aggressive throughout the game and tried to get ahead as much as I could.”
Goeddel got his first start since the All-Star break as Mackanin looked to stoke a slumbering offense that scored just 10 runs in the previous five games. The rookie responded with a two-run homer in the first inning and an RBI single in the second inning.
But this night belonged to Hellickson. Even Goeddel noticed that from his post in left field.
“You could really tell early on that Helly was on his game,” Goeddel said. “I didn’t even get a ball in left field. That’s how on he was. His changeup was unbelievable.”
Hellickson’s turn comes up again Monday in Miami. Will he still be a Phillie? Or will he be an Oriole by then? Or maybe a Marlin, pitching against the Phillies? Wouldn't that be something?
Time will tell. The only sure thing is Hellickson didn’t hurt his trade value Wednesday night.