Phillies-Padres 5 Things: Locked-in Hellickson Faces Stripped-down Lineup

Phillies (50-60) at Padres (47-61)
10:40 p.m. on CSN

Be sure to catch a post-work nap because it's going to be a late night for the Phillies as they begin their West Coast trip.

Let's take a closer look at Friday's series opener in San Diego:

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1. To Hell with the trade deadline
With the uncertainty of the trade deadline in the past, Jeremy Hellickson now gears up for the final two months and makes his 23rd start of the season tonight.

Hellickson has had the rebound year he needed to rebuild his value in a contract year. He's 8-7 with a 3.70 ERA in 131⅓ innings with 109 strikeouts and just 29 walks. He's averaged 6.0 innings per start and posted the best strikeout and walk rates of his career.

There are only seven pitchers in baseball this season who have at least 109 K's and no more than 29 BB's and the Phillies have two of them in Hellickson and Aaron Nola. (The others are Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz and Julio Teheran.)

July was by far Hellickson's best month this season. The Phillies won five of his six starts and he posted a 2.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 5-to-1 K/BB ratio. He has six quality starts in his last eight tries.

Hellickson did not face the Padres earlier this season in the series at Citizens Bank Park. This is a good matchup for him. San Diego has traded away many of its top players this season and right now has just two somewhat dangerous bats in its lineup in Wil Myers and Yangervis Solarte. Plus, Petco Park in San Diego is one of the game's most pitcher-friendly venues, especially at night when the air is cooled by the Pacific Ocean and the marine layer causes fly balls to die. For Hellickson, a flyball pitcher who struggled the last two seasons with home runs, this is key.

A few Padres have hit Hellickson well. Myers is 4 for 11 with two homers and a double. Alexei Ramirez is 5 for 12 with a double. Solarte has reached in five of 11 plate appearances vs. him.

2. Patience a mirage?
The Phillies' teamwide approach at the plate doesn't seem all that different from what it was the first four months of the season, but they've walked much more lately. 

The Phils have had seven or more walks in three of their last 10 games after having just one game with seven-plus walks in their first 100. 

Maikel Franco is getting himself out less often. Tommy Joseph walked three times on Thursday after walking just three times in his first 41 games with the Phillies. Cesar Hernandez continues to see a lot of pitches atop the Phillies' order. Hernandez has reached base 35 times in his last 70 plate appearances for a .500 OBP in his last 15 games.

Every organization wants its hitters to walk more and strike out less, but the Phillies have made that a priority from the low ranks of the minor leagues on up this season.

3. One bat changes things
The Phillies are 4-3 with Aaron Altherr in the lineup and have averaged 5.5 runs per game. He's been held hitless four times but has made an impact in the other three games, going 3 for 4 with a homer and two RBIs in his first game, 3 for 5 with a homer and five RBIs on Tuesday and 1 for 3 with an RBI double on Thursday.

Adding one big bat toward the top of the Phillies' lineup just changes its whole complexion. Altherr is a multi-faceted player who can fit well in the two-hole because of his power and speed or can bat fifth because of his propensity for extra-base hits. Altherr has 40 big-league hits and 23 have gone for extra bases.

In 46 games the last two seasons, Altherr has hit .244/.347/.494 with one extra-base hit every 7.1 at-bats.

There was never a ton of top prospect shine on Altherr, but he's a building block just like Franco and Odubel Herrera.

4. A look at a lefty
The Padres start 6-foot-4 southpaw Christian Friedrich, who is 4-6 with a 4.72 ERA in 14 starts. The 29-year-old began his career with the Rockies and signed with the Padres in March.

Friedrich throws six different pitches: a four-seam and two-seam fastball in the 90 to 92 mph range, a curveball, slider, changeup and cutter. The changeup and slider have been his best pitches.

Friedrich, despite the 5.47 career ERA, has shut the Phillies down every time he's faced them. In one start (2012) and three relief appearances (2015), Friedrich has allowed just one run in 10 innings against the Phillies with nine strikeouts.

5. This and that
• The Padres' entire opening day outfield of Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton Jr. and Jon Jay is gone. Kemp was traded to the Braves, Upton to the Blue Jays and Jay (a Phillie-killer) is on the DL. 

• Altherr just looks more natural and instinctive in CF than Herrera, doesn't he?

• The only catcher in baseball with a higher slugging percentage than Cameron Rupp's .486 is Wilson Ramos (.536). Rupp, who's hitting .274 with an .813 OPS, is on pace for 18 home runs.

• Closer Jeanmar Gomez is back with the team after missing a few days on the paternity leave list.

• Appropriate with the Phillies facing a left-handed starter: Herrera has a .425 OBP this season against lefty starters but is 2 for 37 with 12 strikeouts against lefty relievers.

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