Phillies (20-15) vs. Reds (14-20)
7:05 p.m. on CSN
After ending their road trip with the high of an extra-inning win in Atlanta, the Phillies are finally back home for a little while. They spent 16 of their last 19 games on the road, going an impressive 13-6 during that stretch and 5-5 on the most recent 10-game trip.
The Phils begin a nine-game homestand tonight and all three series are winnable. If they truly are an above-average team, now is the time to show that against the Reds, Marlins and Braves.
1. Since they last met …
The Phillies were swept by the Reds in the opening series of the season in Cincinnati. The bullpen was to blame, blowing leads in each of the first two games in a series the Phils could have or should have won.
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Since then, the Phillies are 20-12 and the Reds are 11-20. The Phils' bullpen has settled in nicely since.
Jeanmar Gomez seized the closer's role and enters the weekend leading the majors with 13 saves.
Hector Neris has a 1.64 ERA and the third-highest swinging strike rate of any National League reliever at 18.3 percent. (The league average for relievers is 10.6 percent.) Neris leads all MLB relievers with 29 strikeouts.
And David Hernandez, who gave up three runs without recording an out in the season opener, has made 14 appearances since and allowed a run just once. His ERA is all the way down to 2.76. The only relievers in baseball with more strikeouts than Hernandez (24) are Neris, Dellin Betances and Trevor May, the former Phillies prospect traded to Minnesota for Ben Revere.
Meanwhile, the Reds' bullpen has been a trainwreck. Cincinnati's 6.34 bullpen ERA is by far the highest in baseball, with the Rangers next-to-last at 4.94. The Reds' bullpen went down in infamy early this season by allowing at least one run in 21 straight games, an MLB record.
The Reds have already gone through one closer in J.J. Hoover, who allowed 18 runs and six homers in 10⅔ innings before being sent down to Triple A. Former left-handed starter Tony Cingrani has stepped in as the closer and is coming off a blown save of his own Wednesday.
2. On-base machine
It's time to recognize Odubel Herrera as one of the top table-setters in baseball. He went 4 for 4 with a triple and a walk Thursday, reaching base five times for the second time this season. It was Herrera's NL-leading 22nd time this season reaching base multiple times. Adam Eaton of the White Sox (24) is the only player in the majors with more.
Herrera's batting line is up to a gaudy .339/.450/.460. He moved into second in the majors in OBP, a point ahead of Daniel Murphy, who's hitting .409. Dexter Fowler leads the way at .458.
Herrera couldn't have started this season in more impressive fashion. He's hit righties (.348), he's hit lefties (.313), he's walked a ton (26). He's gotten on base so much that he's on pace for 102 runs scored despite playing on a team that averages fewer than 3.3 per game.
3. Joseph's debut
In case you hadn't heard, first baseman Tommy Joseph was called up from Triple A on Friday. All of those questions we fielded over the winter about which prospect would be called up first? It turned out to be the prospect everyone forgot about.
Joseph led the International League with a .347 batting average and .981 OPS. He had seven doubles, six homers and 17 RBIs in just 100 plate appearances, hitting his way past Darin Ruf. Joseph will be the right-handed hitting portion of the Phils' first base platoon and he's starting right away. Joseph bats sixth and plays first base Friday night against Reds left-hander Brandon Finnegan (see lineup).
Joseph was a highly-touted offensive catching prospect before all the concussions. Now he doesn't have to worry about foul tips, just groundballs and popups to the right side. Joseph's defense was shaky at Lehigh Valley, but it's not as if Ryan Howard has provided wizardry with the glove in recent years.
Joseph went 11 for 30 (.367) against lefties at Triple A with three doubles and three homers.
4. Hellickson starts
In his eighth start of the season, Jeremy Hellickson (2-2, 4.91) hopes for a repeat of his performance against the Reds on opening day. He allowed one unearned run over six innings with six strikeouts back on April 4 at Great American Ballpark.
Hellickson has completed six innings just once since. He pitched 5⅓ innings in each of his last two starts, most recently taking a no-decision in a Phillies win over the Marlins.
Hellickson has struck out 37 batters in 36⅔ innings and he's walked one or no batters in five of seven starts. The problem, as expected, has been all the home runs. Hellickson's already allowed nine, tied for fourth-most in the majors. His opponents have a .547 slugging percentage, placing Hellickson sixth on a list no pitcher wants a part of.
Current Reds are just 6 for 28 against him with no homers, no walks and seven strikeouts. Zack Cozart is 3 for 3 with two doubles, and Brandon Phillips is 2 for 5 with a double. Joey Votto is 0 for 6 with three strikeouts.
5. Second time facing Finnegan
The Phillies get another look at Finnegan, the southpaw the Reds acquired as part of last summer's Johnny Cueto trade with Kansas City.
When the Phils faced Finnegan in the second game of the season, he was coming off a terrible spring training. But he's settled into Cincinnati's rotation, going 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA and .219 opponents' batting average in seven starts. Only once has he allowed more than three earned runs.
Lefties (.306, .780 OPS) have hit Finnegan much better than righties have (.191 BA, .691) this season. When he faced the Phils in early April, Maikel Franco took him deep and Freddy Galvis hit a double. The rest of the team was 1 for 13 with six strikeouts.
Finnegan's four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball average 93 mph. He throws one of those two pitches about 65 percent of the time. He also has a changeup and a slider. Right-handed hitters are 2 for 25 (.080) against his changeup.