Hellickson relying on command in hot start

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Any solid start from Hellickson is beneficial for the Phillies, who could try to deal Hellickson for the second consecutive season if they find themselves out of playoff contention come the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

The secret to his success is simple. His arsenal isn’t that of a power pitcher; his fastball Friday night averaged 90.3 mph, according to Statcast™, slower than that of opposing starting pitcher Bartolo Colon.

Hellickson relies on good fastball command down in the zone and a disappearing changeup that looks like a low fastball until it’s too late to differentiate. This induces lots of weak contact, like Friday, when hitters were 1-for-8 against the changeup.

“I probably wouldn’t be here without a changeup,” Hellickson said. “I think it’s working because my fastball is down and I’m commanding that where I want.”

To pair with his bread-and-butter offerings, Hellickson’s curveball has the third-highest spin rate in the Majors of any pitcher who has thrown at least 25, according to Statcast™.

He’s throwing his changeup 34 percent of the time in 2017, nine percent more than last season, according to Statcast™. That difference has come from fewer four-seamers and curveballs thrown. The change is working for Hellickson, whose ERA now sits at 1.88 through four starts.

“A lot of it has to do with feel,” Philies manager Pete Mackanin said on why Hellickson began throwing the pitch more after the All-Star break last season. “He got that feel and it gave him confidence.”

Before the All-Star break in 2016, Hellickson threw more curveballs than changeups in a start six times. Since then, just once.

That Hellickson doesn’t have the most electric stuff and still manages to get outs with ease is frustrating for his opponents.

“He doesn’t overpower you,” said Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman. “But he keeps you off-balance pretty much the whole time. It’s a fastball and changeup. … It’s frustrating.”

Ben Harris is a reporter for MLB.com based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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