The Phillies’ six-game winning streak back in April seems as if it was decades ago. The team hasn’t been able to win back-to-back games since, winning only three of their next 18 games. The Phils now head into Pittsburgh to try and right the ship.
What to expect
This might not be what you want to hear, but the Phillies haven’t had recent success at PNC Park lately. Since June 2012, the Phils are 3-9 in Pittsburgh and just 9-21 against the Pirates during that stretch. Still, the Phils will have the top of their rotation on the hill with Aaron Nola returning to the mound for the series finale on Sunday.
One bright side over the last few weeks has been the resurgence of Tommy Joseph. After a dismal April, Joseph is hitting .383/.473/.830 with five homer runs and 11 RBI in 15 games played in May. In seven games played against Pittsburgh, Joseph is hitting .353/.476/.588 with a home run. Small sample size but we’ll take all the hope we can get.
The Pirates have been plagued by injuries this season, most recently with right fielder and cleanup hitter Gregory Polanco being put on the 10-day disabled list with a strained left hamstring. The Phils’ team ERA coming into the series is 4.92, which places them second to worst in the league behind the New York Mets.
The Phillies signed Hellickson to be the calming, steady force in a young rotation. This is exactly what he will be called upon to do when he takes the hill on Friday. After dominating start to the season, Hellickson has struggled in three May starts where he’s had a 7.90 ERA and batters are hitting .333/.397/.807 against him. He will need to give the bullpen – and fans – a much-needed breather and go more than five innings. Williams will make his third start after starting the season in the bullpen. He’s been hot and cold – giving up eight runs in just three innings in his first start but limiting the Diamondbacks to just one run in five innings last weekend.
Is this the game where Velasquez keeps his pitch count low and pitches more than five innings? In seven starts, Velasquez has pitched seven innings just once. Nova, on the other hand, has pitched at least six innings his eight starts this season. After a nearly perfect April where posted a 1.50 ERA, Nova’s May ERA has jumped to 4.42. Despite only going five innings last Sunday, Velasquez had one of his best starts of the season, striking out five and limiting the Nationals to just two runs.
Nola is making his first start since April 20 after being sidelined with a strained lower back. In his last of two rehab starts, Nola showed he is ready to return, allowing two hits, striking out seven and walking one in 6.1 innings. Kuhl seems to have the Velasquez syndrome – he can’t seem to get out of the fifth inning. Opponents are hitting .319/.391/.514 against him and he’s given up 10 runs in his last two starts.