Phillies-Diamondbacks 5 things: Hellickson faces his former team


Phillies (30-40) vs. Diamondbacks (32-39)
1:05 p.m. on CSN

The Phillies finish their wraparound series with the Diamondbacks desperate for a win. The D-backs took the first three games of the series and will put Shelby Miller on the mound against Jeremy Hellickson, who the Phillies acquired from Arizona this offseason. 

Here are five things to look out for in the series finale.

1. Hellickson vs. his former team
On Nov. 14, 2014, the Diamondbacks traded two prospects to the Tampa Bay Rays to acquire Jeremy Hellickson. Exactly one year later, they shipped him out of town for a prospect.

Hellickson, once a top prospect for the Rays who won American League Rookie of the Year in 2011, dealt with injuries in 2013 and '14 and saw his ERA balloon from the low-3.00s to over 4.50. The D-backs likely thought they were buying low on a talented pitcher, but he was unable to live up the hype once he got to the desert. 

Hellickson's ERA stayed over 4.50 (4.62 to be exact) in 2015 despite lowering his hits and walks per nine innings while making 27 starts compared to just 13 in 2014. 

Now with the Phillies, Hellickson started off the year strong, pitching to an ERA under 4.00 for most of the year. But his last few starts have been rough. The veteran righty has given up six home runs in his last four starts, a stretch directly preceded by three straight games without allowing a ball to leave the park. 

He's allowed 11 earned runs in 12 innings during his last two starts, both losses and his home run rate is a career-worst 1.7 per nine innings. The Phils are hoping a matchup with his former squad gets the juices flowing and puts the veteran back on track.

2. Miller time
Hellickson will duel with another pitcher familiar to getting traded. Shelby Miller has also been traded each of the last two offseasons and was, like Hellickson, a top prospect. Miller was third in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2013 after going 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA in 31 starts.

But after another representative season in 2014, the Cardinals traded him to the Atlanta Braves for Jason Heyward. Looking at his ERA and peripherals, Miller excelled in Atlanta. He had a 3.02 ERA in 205⅓ innings, earning him his first All Star Game appearance. However, he led all of baseball with an unseemly 17 losses thanks to the Braves' feeble offense.

The Braves, a rebuildling franchise like the Phillies, looked to sell high on their new asset and sent him to a D-backs team hoping to have signature one-two punch atop their rotation with Zack Greinke. Atlanta acquired a haul of talent for Miller, including 2015 No. 1 overall draft pick Dansby Swanson and Arizona starting OF Ender Inciarte.

Unfortunately for Arizona, Miller hasn't been the pitcher they hoped when giving up Swanson and co. His 7.09 ERA would be the worst among qualified pitchers, but Miller averages just 4.5 innings per start and hasn't thrown enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (not that he will be winning that this year). 

He's also resumed his losing ways with a 1-6 record, including a string of three straight losses going into Monday. It's easy to forget he is just 25 years old, so the righty still has plenty of time to turns things around. Miller is of course just a year removed from an exemplary ERA and there's a reason the Diamondbacks traded the farm for him in December. 

3. Rookie struggles
There seems to be a running theme in these game notes and that is of players in the midst of a bad stretch. Add Phillies first baseman Tommy Joseph to that list. 

The rookie got off to a hot start after he was called up in May. He was hitting enough to unseat Ryan Howard as the everyday first baseman and relegate the veteran to a supporting role. As recently as June 10, he had a .323 batting average paired with a .677 slugging percentage and seven home runs. 

Yet what goes up must come down according to the law of gravity, which also seems to apply to red-hot rookie hitters. Joseph has just two hits since June 10 and currently has just one hit in his last 28 at-bats, bringing his average down to .240.

Compounding his issues is his propensity to strike out. He has fanned 27 times in 101 plate appearances while drawing just three walks, an alarmingly high strikeout rate and low walk rate. Looking across the diamond at D-backs outfielder Peter O'Brien and you see a similar player with light-tower power, but way too many strikeouts. 

If Joseph (or O'Brien for that matter) want to stick in the big leagues, he needs to figure out those issues and re-adjust to big league pitchers who seem to have adjusted to him. 

4. Players to Watch
Phillies: Believe it or not, but Cameron Rupp has the second highest batting average on the team with a .265 mark. He drew a walk in three plate appearances Sunday after picking up two hits (including a triple) in his previous start Friday.

Diamondbacks: Former Phillies oufielder Michael Bourn debuted with the Diamondbacks on May 15 and held a .343/.425/.457 triple slash line through the end of May. He's fallen on hard times in June, sporting a .190 batting average in 17 games while striking out 19 times in 63 plate appearances.

5. This and that
• The Phillies have been outhomered, 57-27, this year at Citizens Bank Park. The D-backs hold a 9-1 edge in the home run department three games into the series.

• Miller went 2-1 with a 1.98 ERA in four starts against the Phillies in 2015. That included a complete game shutout in which he allowed just three hits. He is 3-2 with a 2.54 ERA in seven career starts against the Phils.

• Hellickson is 0-2 with a 9.00 ERA in two starts against the Diamondbacks. Both starts came when he was with the Rays. 

• Howard is 6 for 16 with three homers and three walks against Miller. Odubel Herrera is 3 for 12 with a double and four strikeouts vs. the righty.

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