WASHINGTON -- If there's one early-season trend that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin wants to see change quickly, it's his starting rotation's inability to pitch deep into ballgames.
Indeed, through 10 games, Philly starters had tallied just 51 combined innings, which ranked 26th in the Majors and marked the fewest frames the club's starters had pitched through the first 10 games since 1987.
Enter Jeremy Hellickson, who gave the Phillies just what they needed as he held the Nationals to two runs over seven innings in Saturday's 4-2 win at Nationals Park in D.C. to snap a four-game skid.
"Finally," Mackanin said, "seven innings out of a starter. Makes it a lot easier for us."
The 30-year-old right-hander's steadying performance was just the second time in the first 11 games that a Philly starter had pitched seven complete innings. And while putting an extra burden on the bullpen is something all starters want to avoid, Hellickson's outing was especially needed given that the relief corps has already thrown 39 frames.
"That's my goal every time," Hellickson said. "Our bullpen has been getting worked a little too much, so it was nice to get seven [innings]."
In a way, all Hellickson did on Saturday was finish what he started in his previous outing six days earlier, which was also against the Nationals. In that game, he was cruising, throwing five scoreless frames before leaving early with a hand injury. This time around, he pitched well enough -- and long enough -- to get the win.
"We didn't switch too much up [from the previous start]," Hellickson said. "Stayed away from the inner part of the plate for the most part. Just going right after guys, getting ahead."
"He changes speeds very well," said Nationals left fielder Chris Heisey, whose seventh-inning solo home run off Hellickson marked the first time the right-hander had allowed a long ball in seven starts. "Really just fastball, changeup. He threw maybe one or two breaking balls. He threw me one, and maybe a couple to a few other guys. Just changes speeds, locates, stays away from the middle part of the plate. He is effective with his command and keeps us off balance with the change of speeds."
Hellickson, who was the Phillies' Opening Day starter, now owns a 2-0 record with a 1.59 ERA through his first three outings.
"He just knows how to pitch," Mackanin said. "He had [the Nationals] in a rocking chair, back and forth, changing speeds. ... When he's locating pitches again, he's tough for any team."
Daniel Shiferaw is a contributor to MLB.com based in Washington who covered the Phillies on Saturday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.