Hellickson gets job done in Phillies win, awaits trade fate

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The Phillies' Jeremy Hellickson works in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves, July 30, 2016, in Atlanta.

ATLANTA - The last pitch Jeremy Hellickson threw - perhaps of his Phillies career - was a 90-mph fastball that Braves catcher Anthony Recker lashed to left field for a run-scoring single. As Pete Mackanin arrived to snag the ball from Hellickson in the sixth inning of a 9-5 Phillies win, there was a sense that Hellickson had done his job - on many levels.

Now, the Phillies wait.

Hellickson did not pitch his best game Saturday night against the worst team in baseball. His nine-start streak of pitching at least six innings ended. (He pitched 52/3.) Atlanta rapped nine hits, eight of which were singles.

But the Phillies cruised. In an incredible baseball feat, they batted around in the eighth inning without the benefit of a hit. They scored four runs on four walks, a hit batter, and two errors to build a six-run cushion. It was bad baseball at its most grotesque.

Through 22 starts, Hellickson has a 3.70 ERA. He has acted as the steadying presence the Phillies craved. In a starved pitching trade market, Hellickson would represent an upgrade for some contenders. He posted a 2.34 ERA in six July starts.

He is no one's first option. Teams trolling for pitchers are waiting to see what happens with touted arms such as Chris Sale, Chris Archer, and Shelby Miller. All of them or none of them could be dealt before the 4 p.m. Monday deadline.

The longer there is inactivity, the higher the chance that Hellickson, or even Vince Velasquez, will be traded.

"Whatever happens, happens," Hellickson said. "Hopefully I'm still here on Tuesday."

Hellickson could have pitched deeper Saturday, Mackanin said, had he not injured his pitching hand while swinging a bat. Hellickson fouled off a pitch and bruised his hand. It affected him in the sixth inning; he could not throw his signature curveball because the grip was too difficult.

The manager sent pitching coach Bob McClure to the mound to check on Hellickson.

"He said it was pretty sore," Mackanin said. ". . . In the end, it's not a big deal. It's not like his elbow was hurting, you know what I mean? I don't care. I don't want to lose the game."

Toronto has heavily scouted Hellickson's recent starts. Baltimore is in constant search of pitching reinforcements. Detroit has improved and could augment its staff for the stretch run. St. Louis and Pittsburgh could swing a trade, too, and have monitored Hellickson.

The Rangers' interest in Velasquez, according to a baseball source, is real. Texas may have targets ranked above Velasquez, but they have discussed the parameters of a trade. The Phillies, according to a report by CSNPhilly.com, have asked Texas for two hitting prospects. One of them could be Joey Gallo, who possesses some of the best raw power in the minors. But it comes with questions about Gallo's aptitude to hit big-league pitching.

Texas has a collection of young hitters, although they may want to use them to acquire a more proven (and durable) upgrade. Velasquez's main attraction is that he will not be a free agent until after the 2021 season, and inexpensive young pitching is a commodity. That, too, is a reason for the Phillies to retain the 24-year-old righthander.

But should the White Sox (Sale), Rays (Archer), and Diamondbacks (Miller) decide not to deal their pitchers, the Rangers could look to meet the Phillies' price on Velasquez. Or settle for the 29-year-old Hellickson.

On Saturday, Hellickson did it all. He slashed a two-run double to left in the fifth that pushed the Phillies ahead for good. It was his first career extra-base hit.

"He's been an outstanding guy, a real likable person," Mackanin said. "He's got a good work ethic. He's focused and poised on the mound. He's a true pitcher. He knows how to change speeds. I'd like to keep him."

But soon, the veteran pitcher could find a new home, where the postseason is a goal.

mgelb@philly.com

@MattGelb