Hellickson exits game with back tightness

Right-hander expects to be OK for next start

Hellickson exits game with back tightness

LOS ANGELES -- The Phillies hope Jeremy Hellickson's back is a little sore and nothing more.

He left Wednesday afternoon's 6-2 victory over the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium after the fifth inning because of tightness in his back, potentially leaving the Phillies with just three healthy starters. The team placed Aaron Nola on the 15-day disabled list Aug. 3 because of inflammation in his right elbow, replacing him with rookie Jake Thompson. They placed Zach Eflin on the DL on Tuesday because of sore knees. They have not named his replacement for Sunday's start against the Rockies.

The Phillies will need a second starter Wednesday against the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park if Hellickson can't pitch, but he said he expects to be OK. It helps that he is not scheduled to pitch again for a week because the Phillies do not play games Thursday or Monday.

"It's definitely not something I think will linger more than a couple days," Hellickson said.

Adam Morgan, David Buchanan and Phil Klein are candidates to take a spot or two in the rotation.

Hellickson struggled a bit in the first inning Wednesday but cruised before he left the game, retiring 14 of the final 15 batters he faced. He said he tweaked the right side of his back on the second pitch against Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley in the fifth inning.

"Then it just kind of tightened up on me," Hellickson said. "I tried to talk [manager Pete Mackanin] into letting me go back out, but it's probably a good thing he didn't let me."

An injury to Hellickson is one of the risks the Phillies took when they did not trade him before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline. He is a free agent after the season and has been pitching well, but the Phillies wanted talent commensurate with a compensatory pick in the 2017 Draft to trade him. They are expected to make Hellickson a qualifying offer after the season. If he rejects it and if he signs with another team, the Phillies receive an extra Draft pick.

The risk is if Hellickson gets injured or struggles before the end of the season, surveys the landscape for free-agent starting pitching and accepts a one-year contract expected to be worth about $16.5 million.

In that case, the Phillies get Hellickson on a very expensive one-year contract and no Draft pick.

But it sounds like Hellickson should be OK. The Phillies certainly need him.

"It's unfortunate," Hellickson said about the Phillies' recent rotation woes. "Nola did all he could to fight through that. Then Eflin, same thing. He'd been battling. Like I said, mine's not going to be any more than a little soreness tomorrow. Hopefully just a couple days of soreness. I can't see it being any longer than that."

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.