PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Jeremy Hellickson confounds hitters with a soft-tossing strategy that is as much necessity as preference.
Hellickson pitched seven strong innings and Cesar Hernandez had three hits and scored two runs to lead the Philadelphia Phillies to a 4-3 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
Hellickson (3-0) allowed two runs and just three hits with five strikeouts and no walks. The right-hander, whose four-seam fastball averages a shade under 90 mph - 3 mph less than the big-league average - uses a masterful changeup and a mix of other offspeed pitches to keep hitters guessing.
“If I could throw harder, I would,” Hellickson joked. “I would love to throw harder than I do. For me, it’s keeping the ball down, mixing it up, throwing my offspeed in fastball counts and trying to get weak contact.”
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said pitchers, especially younger hurlers, can learn from watching Hellickson.
“Very often, younger pitchers think the harder they throw, they’re going to get the guy out,” Mackanin said. “Really, softer is better. That’s a phrase I think (Greg) Maddux used to say, and Hellickson gets it. Very often soft is better than hard when you are in trouble.”
Hellickson also possesses excellent control. He has just three walks in 24 innings this season.
Freddy Galvis, Aaron Altherr, Tommy Joseph and Maikel Franco each drove in runs for the Phillies, who snapped a seven-game losing streak to Atlanta. The win came on the heels of Philadelphia’s series victory in New York on Thursday that ended a string of six straight series losses to the Mets.
“It was nice to beat them like we beat the Mets,” Mackanin said.
Freddie Freeman and Adonis Garcia homered for the Braves, who have dropped four straight after sweeping four games from San Diego.
“I just kind of feel like we’re a tick away from something really good happening,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “We just got to keep playing. I don’t think we’re that far off.”
Bartolo Colon (1-2) allowed four runs and 11 hits in seven innings.
Hector Neris gave up a leadoff home run to Garcia in the ninth and waited out a 24-minute rain delay before recording his second save in as many tries.
The Phillies took an early lead in the second on Galvis’ RBI single that bounced off Colon, allowing Michael Saunders to score. They got two more in the third on RBI hits by Altherr and Joseph to give Hellickson a 3-0 lead.
Hellickson didn’t allow a hit until Ender Inciarte’s leadoff double in the fourth. Inciarte scored on Garcia’s RBI single to left. Freeman’s 425-foot solo shot off the second deck in right-center in the sixth was the only other run Hellickson surrendered. Freeman, who has seven homers, entered second in the league with a .407 average.
“He’s just doing what he’s capable of doing,” Snitker said.
Philadelphia took a 4-2 lead in the seventh on Franco’s RBI groundout. The Braves pulled within a run in the ninth on Garcia’s homer.
Hellickson, who has a 1.88 ERA, also was helped by Hernandez’s defense. Hernandez ranged far from his position at second base into shallow right field and stretched out to rob Matt Kemp of a leadoff hit in the second.
After he was given Thursday off by Snitker, shortstop Dansby Swanson was back in the lineup but dropped from second to eighth in the lineup. Swanson went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and is hitless in his last 11 at-bats. He is 3 for 36 over his last nine games to drop his average to .125.
Braves: Kemp went 0 for 4 and is 0 for 8 since returning from the 10-day DL on Thursday. Kemp strained his hamstring on April 7.
Phillies: OF Howie Kendrick has a strained oblique and likely will be out longer than expected. Kendrick was eligible to return from the 10-day DL on Wednesday with what originally was thought to be a minor rib injury. Mackanin said before the game that the injury was more serious and Kendrick could be two weeks away from returning. … Reliever Pat Neshek returned from the paternity list and Ben Lively was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
BIG PIECE’S RETURN?
Ryan Howard is expected to be in the starting lineup for Triple-A Gwinnett on Saturday night. The Braves signed the former Phillies slugger, nicknamed the “Big Piece,” in hopes that the veteran can provide some pop to the lineup.
Braves: LHP Jaime Garcia (0-1, 4.67) takes the mound for Atlanta on Saturday night in the second contest of the three-game series. In 17 1/3 innings, Garcia has allowed 18 hits - including four homers - and walked seven.
Phillies: RHP Jerad Eickhoff (0-1, 2.75) has allowed three earned runs or less in all three starts this season and 12 in a row over the last two seasons.
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