PITTSBURGH - The Phillies won't know the extent of Jeremy Hellickson's injury until Saturday but they're cautiously optimistic he won't need to miss much time.
Hellickson was in the midst of a dominant performance Friday at PNC Park when his night was cut short by his unexpected production at the plate.
Hellickson tweaked his lower back in the seventh inning one swing before roping an RBI double to give himself and the Phillies (15-24) a much-needed insurance run. It put them up two in a game they eventually won 7-2 (see Instant Replay), but Hellickson was taken out by manager Pete Mackanin after reaching second base.
"It was right above his belt. I don't think it's serious, but when I went out there to talk to him he said, ‘I'm OK,' but he was grimacing a little bit," Mackanin said. "He felt something. I don't want to take chances with him. So we'll look at it tomorrow and see how he is. He's got a few days to recover. I think he's going to be OK, but I don't have all the details."
Hellickson, too, thinks he'll be OK and won't need to miss a start, but players typically take an optimistic approach after that sort of injury. So don't be surprised if he ends up missing more time than expected, a la Howie Kendrick.
"Lower-back tightness," Hellickson said. "Really nothing. It just kind of grabbed on me. I'll be fine. It was really nothing."
The Phillies hope Hellickson is healthy because they're finally getting their rotation back intact with Aaron Nola returning from the DL on Sunday. It would be yet another frustration in an already agonizing season for Mackanin to lose one of his most dependable arms.
Hellickson gave up a single and a double to the first two hitters he faced in the first inning Friday and then didn't allow another hit the rest of the way. When he was forced out of the game in the seventh, he had retired nine Pirates in a row and 16 of 17. Pittsburgh ended up with just three hits on the night as Phillies pitchers combined for six 1-2-3 innings.
Hellickson told Mackanin he felt good enough to stay in but the manager said no and Hellickson quickly ceded.
He wanted to stay in to complete at least seven innings, something Phillies starting pitchers have done just seven times all season.
"That's defiintely the most frustrating part," Hellickson said. "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."
The Phillies didn't do a ton offensively, but Cameron Rupp helped put the game out of reach with an opposite-field, three-run homer in the ninth.
Cesar Hernandez, 3 for his last 24 entering the game, had a productive night with a run-scoring single and a walk that started a rally.
Maikel Franco and Freddy Galvis each had two hits and scored two runs, with Franco extending his hitting streak to six games.
And Odubel Herrera, who had a .240 on-base percentage over his last 24 games, had the kind of at-bat in the sixth inning that can turn a slump around, fouling off six pitches before singling sharply up the middle.
Positive signs all over the place in the Phillies' most well-played game since May 1.
"The series in Texas, that was really the only three games we got beat like that," Hellickson said. "I think we've been losing a lot of close games. It was nice to get out there and get a win."
Even the Phillies' much-maligned bullpen - finally positioned the way Mackanin wanted after six quality innings from the starter - allowed just one baserunner over three scoreless innings.
"We had another meeting with the bullpen to try to get them to regroup and understand that we've been using them a little sporadically because of the lack of innings that we've been given. We're always meeting. Good meetings," Mackanin said with a laugh.
"It was a nice feeling to use 7-8-9, although I did have designs to have Hellickson maybe go seven or eight, even nine, he was making it look so easy. But it was nice to use the combination that I always talk about."