Phillies-Blue Jays 5 things: Marco Estrada's changeup could stifle Phils


Phillies (30-35) vs. Blue Jays (36-31)
7:05 p.m. on CSN

After splitting in Toronto, the Phillies and Blue Jays are in South Philadelphia tonight to begin another two-game series. 

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Jays in a nutshell
The two games at Rogers Centre were an accurate portrayal of who the Blue Jays have been all season. No runs Monday, 11 on Tuesday. Toronto has a boom-bust offense built around home run power, but when the main guys aren't locked in the Blue Jays have trouble manufacturing runs.

The Blue Jays had seven extra-base hits Tuesday, six off of debuting starter Zach Eflin. Josh Donaldson and Edwin Encarnacion, batting second and third, combined to go 5 for 9 with two homers, seven RBIs and four runs. Russell Martin and Kevin Pillar each reached base three times. When the bottom of Toronto's order is hitting, look out. It means the bases will be occupied when the big-time power bats come up since John Gibbons bats Jose Bautista first and Donaldson second.

Toronto's inability to use a DH in these two games could mean Bautista misses one. He was the Jays' designated hitter Monday and Tuesday after missing the prior three games with a thigh injury.

2. Hellickson on the hill
Jeremy Hellickson (4-4, 4.34) makes his 14th start as a Phillie, hoping to avoid the barrel of bats he caught Friday in D.C. Hellickson was handed a four-run lead against the Nationals but let it evaporate by allowing seven runs on nine hits and three homers over six innings.

Hellickson has had an up-and-down season, but one thing he's avoided is consecutive poor starts. Only once all season has he allowed more than three runs two starts in a row. Hellickson allowed six runs in St. Louis on May 2, then had a 2.89 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over his next six starts leading into last Friday.

On the year, Hellickson has struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings and walked 2.4. Solid command numbers. The home runs are killing him, though. He's allowed 14 in 74⅔ innings, the highest rate of his career. Max Scherzer and Wei-Yin Chen are the only starters in the NL who have surrendered more.

Even when he's struggled, though, Hellickson's changeup has continued to be a dominant pitch. His opponents are 7 for 57 (.123) against it, the third-lowest opponents' batting average vs. a changeup in the NL. 

Hellickson's opponent Tuesday, Marco Estrada, also has a top-tier changeup — his opponents are 12 for 97 (.124), which is the third-lowest opponents' batting average vs. a changeup in the AL.

These Blue Jays have plenty of experience against Hellickson from his days with the Rays. Bautista is 11 for 30 (.367) with a double, triple, three homers and five walks. Encarnacion is 9 for 35 (.257) with three doubles, a homer and five walks of his own. Donaldson, Pillar and Martin are a combined 2 for 26.

3. Scouting Estrada
Estrada (4-2, 2.57) has been the Blue Jays' best starting pitcher, just like he was in the 2015 postseason. In 80⅔ innings this season, Estrada has allowed just 48 hits for a ridiculous .168 opponents' batting average. His WHIP is an even 1.00.

Estrada went 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 181 innings last season, the healthiest of his career. He dealt with a back injury early this season but recently found his groove. He has a 2.19 ERA with 16 hits allowed in 37 innings in his last five starts, all Blue Jays wins.

The Phillies have actually hit him well over the years dating back to his time with the Brewers. Estrada has made four starts against the Phillies since 2012 and is 1-1 with a 6.30 ERA and 37 baserunners allowed in just 20 innings.

Estrada isn't going to surprise anyone with his repertoire. He throws his high-80s four-seam fastball or changeup 75 percent of the time. He also has a curveball and cutter. But the changeup is the pitch that has made Estrada so successful the last two seasons. 

4. Howard tonight?
Ryan Howard has hit Estrada the best of any Phillie, going 4 for 11 with a homer and three walks. That could mean Howard starts Tuesday over Tommy Joseph, who is 0 for 12 in his last three games. Joseph has faced some tough right-handers the last three games in Joe Ross, R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman.

Joseph has also struggled a bit so far in the majors against changeups, going 1 for 7. With that being Estrada's go-to pitch, it makes even more sense to give Howard the spot start tonight. The Big Piece definitely won't be in the lineup Thursday and Friday when the Phils face left-handers J.A. Happ and Robbie Ray.

(Update: Joseph is starting after all. Could have something to do with Howard's .099 batting average in his last 98 plate appearances.)

5. This and that
• The Phillies are 3-10 against the Blue Jays in their last 13 meetings.

• The Phils have won five of eight interleague games this season.

• Setup man Hector Neris' opponents hit .138 from opening day through May 29. They've hit .375 since.

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