PITTSBURGH -- It had been nearly two weeks since a Phillies starting pitcher pitched seven innings in a game. Jeremy Hellickson looked ready to snap the streak Friday night in a 7-2 victory over the Pirates at PNC Park.
Hellickson had allowed just two hits and two runs in six innings, not allowing a hit since the second batter of the game. He had thrown just 84 pitches and was cruising. But then he tweaked his lower back fouling off a pitch in the seventh inning. He ripped the next pitch down the left-field line to score an insurance run, but he grabbed his right side as he cruised into second base.
He left the game, ending his night an inning or two earlier than he wanted.
"That's definitely the most frustrating part," said Hellickson, who had a 1.80 ERA in five starts in April but carried a 7.90 ERA in his first three starts this month. "I finally was keeping fastballs down, commanding and throwing them where I wanted. Commanded both sides of the plate, so it was frustrating to come out when I could've gone a little longer. Frustrating that I had to come out with how good I felt, too."
Hellickson said he has some lower back tightness. He is hopeful he will make his next start.
"We'll know more tomorrow, but I feel fine," Hellickson said. "I think I could've stayed in, but they didn't want me to."
But even six innings from Hellickson were welcome. Phillies starters have pitched six or more innings just six times in a 4-15 stretch since April 27. The bullpen has become frustrated because they have been consistently pitching early in games. Phillies pitching coach Bob McClure and assistant pitching coach Rick Kranitz held a meeting with the team's relievers before the game to discuss their frustrations.
"Basically try to get them to regroup and get them to understand that we've been using them a little sporadically because of the lack of innings that we've been given," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
"Every bullpen is going to be better with the more rest they get," Hellickson said. "We haven't given them the rest they need. As a starter, if you see a guy go six, seven, it's contagious. We've just got to do that more than a couple times through to give those guys the break they need."
Hellickson took pride in helping to make that happen.
"Absolutely," he said.
Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.