Effective changeup becoming Hellickson's out pitch

Effective changeup becoming Hellickson's out pitch

PHILADELPHIA -- Had Maikel Franco not lost a foul pop in the gray Philadelphia skies, Jeremy Hellickson may have escaped the first inning unscathed.

But the ball fell to the ground, mere feet away from the Phillies' third baseman, and the Marlins proceeded to get Hellickson for two runs the remainder of the inning. But that would be all Hellickson and the Phils' bullpen would surrender for the next eight frames in a 4-2 win on Wednesday afternoon.

"[Hellickson] pitched outstanding the rest of the way," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He really mixed his pitches well and gave us a quality start."

The 29-year-old right-hander, the elder statesman in Philadelphia's young rotation, allowed only three more Marlins to reach base in the final five innings he pitched. Mackanin lifted Hellickson for a pinch-hitter in the sixth, but when he was pulled, Hellickson had retired 15 of the last 16 batters he faced. Two singles were erased on ensuing double plays.

"I just took a while to adjust to the zone," Hellickson said. "I wasn't getting ahead of guys."

In his last start, Hellickson relied on what he said was his best changeup to go seven innings and permit two unearned runs. On Wednesday, it was command of his fastball that allowed him to mix his pitches and keep the Marlins off balance.

Hellickson climbs the ladder

Hellickson used three different pitches to record his four strikeouts. With Christian Yelich on second in the first inning, he got Giancarlo Stanton swinging on a change. Stanton whiffed three more times, two coming against Hellickson sliders out of the zone low and away. Hellickson also used a curveball to get opposing starter Tom Koehler swinging.

"He continues to throw an outstanding changeup," Mackanin said. "He's changing speeds and he's been spotting his fastball very well. I think that's what you call pitching."

Wednesday's outing lowered Hellickson's ERA to 3.99 -- a mark he hasn't finished a season with since 2012. In the four starts he hasn't given up a home run in, his ERA is just 0.69.

While his change is transforming back into the out-pitch it had been in his early years in Tampa Bay, Hellickson now is a five-pitch guy who can keep opponents off balance. He rotates a four- and two-seam fastball, mixes in curves and sliders, and finishes them with his low-80s change.

According to PITCHf/x, Hellickson's changeup this season has been at its best since 2012, when he was still a Tampa Bay Ray. From 2011-12, when the pitch was rated the highest, Hellickson posted ERAs of 2.95 and 3.10, respectively.

"It's probably my best pitch," Hellickson said of his change. "But my fastball command's making it a lot better right now."

Evan Webeck is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.