The Philadelphia Phillies are struggling to get their starters working deep into games and have dropped four straight and 15 of their last 18 games. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who host the Phillies in the opener of a three-game series on Friday, are trending in the opposite direction with wins in four of their last five contests.
Philadelphia went to the bullpen in the fifth inning of Thursday’s 8-4 loss at Texas, and early hooks for the starters is contributing to the relief corps seeing their results diminish. “When you’re surprising guys and pitching them in the fourth and fifth, it’s not ideal,” Phillies right-hander Pat Neshek told the team’s website. “You can take any bullpen in the league, and I don’t think they’re going to have much success in that same situation. I’ve got a lot of confidence in the guys, but we’re not doing stuff that we normally do.” The Pirates can put pressure on any pitching staff when getting contributions up and down the order, and utilityman Adam Frazier is providing a spark from the leadoff spot of late by going 10-for-20 with four runs scored and five RBIs in the last four games. Frazier is 1-for-3 with a strikeout in his career against Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who gets the nod on Friday opposite Pittsburgh righty Trevor Williams.
TV: 7:05 p.m. ET, CSN Philadelphia, ROOT Pittsburgh
PITCHING MATCHUP: Phillies RH Jeremy Hellickson (4-1, 3.71 ERA) vs. Pirates RH Trevor Williams (2-2, 6.41)
Hellickson enjoyed a string of three straight starts with at least six innings pitched last month but has yet to get through the sixth in three May turns. The 30-year-old was reached for three runs and six hits in five innings at Washington on Sunday but did not factor in the decision. Hellickson won his lone start against Pittsburgh last season while allowing an unearned run and three hits across 6 1/3 frames.
Williams is making the transition from the bullpen to the rotation and is coming off his best start after allowing one run and four hits over five innings at Arizona on Saturday. The rookie from Arizona State was not quite as sharp in his previous turn, when he was lit up for eight runs - six earned - in three innings at the Dodgers on May 8. Williams is making his first career appearance against Philadelphia.
1. The Phillies optioned RHP Nick Pivetta to Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
2. Pittsburgh 1B Josh Bell homered in back-to-back games.
3. Philadelphia OF Michael Saunders left Thursday’s game with a left groin injury and is day-to-day.
PREDICTION: Pirates 4, Phillies 3