Phillies beat Pirates, but Hellickson is hurt

Phillies Pirates Baseball
Phillies' Michael Saunders greets Maikel Franco, who scored on a double by Jeremy Hellickson during the seventh inning.

PITTSBURGH - The door to the visitors clubhouse at PNC Park closed Friday at 4 p.m., and manager Pete Mackanin convened a meeting. It lasted no more than two minutes. The Phillies, losers in 15 of their previous 18 games, needed to be reassured before a 7-2 win over the Pirates.

Frustration is fine, Mackanin said, but it is best channeled into something productive.

"We just want to stick together as a team," Mackanin said. "I don't expect anybody to be happy when you're going through what we're going through. Nobody should be happy or careless about it. If they are, then they're not the right people. We just have to fight through it."

They did that Friday, even when the baseball gods conspired against them. The Phillies won. But their highest-paid pitcher suffered an injury while he was a hitter.

Jeremy Hellickson was so close to being the first Phillies starter in two weeks to throw a pitch in the seventh inning. He had retired 18 of the last 20 batters he faced. He cruised through Pittsburgh's lineup.

"He was making it look so easy," Mackanin said.

Then Hellickson grabbed his right hip in the top of the seventh after a vicious swing. He ripped the next fastball for a double to left that scored an insurance run. But he could not remain in the game.

Hellickson said he hurt his lower back. He does not believe he will miss a start, although the Phillies will not be certain until further examination.

"We'll know more tomorrow, but I feel fine," Hellickson said. "I think I could have stayed in, but they didn't want me to."

"He's got a few days to recover," Mackanin said. "I think he's going to be OK, but I don't have all the details."

Hellickson is paid $17.2 million for moments like Friday, when the team desperately needed a decent start. He provided just that, even though it did not begin or end well.

Josh Harrison singled, and Josh Bell doubled to produce a run just two batters into Hellickson's night. Freddy Galvis spiked a routine throw to first that plated a second unearned run. Hellickson used 31 pitches for the first three outs. It resembled the roots of yet another brief outing.

It was not. The Pirates did not muster another hit until the ninth inning. Hellickson threw 53 pitches in his next five innings. He lowered his ERA to 3.44, in a rebound from three May starts that had generated a 7.90 ERA. He succeeded Friday just as he did in April, by relying on contact and not strikeouts. Nine Pirates hitters put balls in play from the fourth through sixth innings. All nine were retired.

A Phillies starter has not pitched seven innings since May 6, when Vince Velasquez did it. But six innings were a milestone; that has happened only twice in the first seven games of this road trip.

The relievers continued Hellickson's pace. Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit retired all six of the Pirates they faced. Hector Neris, comforted by a Cameron Rupp three-run homer in the top of the ninth, finished it.

Mackanin, during his team's troubles, has preached patience. The manager possessed no magic elixir Friday afternoon to motivate his players. He did not flip a table or yell. He understands the clubhouse is filled with inexperienced players who have yet to establish a consistent record in the majors.

"Well," Mackanin quipped, "I don't want to divulge my recipe for that because then everybody will use it, and nobody will go into a slump."

He smiled. Later, the Phillies could celebrate a win. But it was not without a potential cost.