Phillies-Nationals 5 things: First look this season at Stephen Strasburg


Phillies (29-31) at Nationals (36-24)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10

Another challenge awaits the Phillies, who are in the nation's capital this weekend for a three-game series against the surging Nats, winners of seven of 10.

Let's take a look at the series opener:

1. Hellickson on the hill
Jeremy Hellickson has been exactly what the Phillies had hoped for this season, going 4-3 with a 3.80 ERA in 12 starts. He's provided stability atop their rotation as well as some unhittability, with six starts this season allowing two runs or fewer.

Hellickson's two best starts as a Phillie have been against the Nationals. He allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings against them on April 27, and gave up three hits and a run in seven innings on May 30. Both were impressive responses from Hellickson after he allowed six runs to the Nats in just three innings in his first meeting with them back on April 15.

Hellickson continues to stifle hitters with his changeup. He's induced 76 swinging strikes on changeups, the highest whiff rate on that pitch for any starting pitcher in baseball. 

Hellickson's opponents this season are 6 for 53 (.113) in at-bats ending in a changeup. The only NL pitcher with a lower opponents' batting average on changeups is Hellickson's opponent Friday night, Stephen Strasburg (5 for 60, .083).

2. Strasburg starts
There was some uncertainty whether Strasburg (9-0, 2.85) would make Friday's start because of a calf issue, but he'll pitch as planned. 

Strasburg, who has a 12-game individual win streak dating back to last season, is off to the best start of his career. His opponents have hit just .219, a career-best mark, and Strasburg has struck out 100 men in 79 innings. His fast start gave the Nationals more urgency in signing him to a $175 million extension. 

Current Phillies have gone 31 for 139 (.223) against Strasburg with two homers, nine walks and 47 strikeouts. The homers belong to Maikel Franco and Carlos Ruiz.

Franco (3 for 7) and Cesar Hernandez (4 for 12, two doubles) have both had some success vs. the hard-throwing righty. Odubel Herrera also has a pair of doubles in nine at-bats against Strasburg.

Strasburg shut the Phillies down last season, going 3-1 with a 2.38 ERA in five starts with 46 strikeouts, six walks and just 20 hits allowed in 34 innings. He didn't face them in any of the teams' nine meetings this season.

3. Joseph expected back
Tommy Joseph is back in the Phillies' lineup Friday after sitting Tuesday and Wednesday. Joseph homered in his last start, but Pete Mackanin went with Ryan Howard the next day and he homered, too. Mackanin gave Howard another opportunity to do some damage Wednesday but he didn't, going 0 for 3 with three strikeouts.

Joseph could start two or all three games this weekend even though the Phillies face a trio of right-handers in Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross. Joseph certainly deserves to given the consistently hard contact he's made. 

Joseph has held his own against right-handed pitching, going 12 for 44 (.273) with four homers and two doubles.

Right-handed hitters have actually been much better against Strasburg in 2016, hitting .247 with a .661 OPS compared to .187 and .562 from lefties.

Here is the lineup:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
3. Maikel Franco, 3B
4. Tommy Joseph, 1B
5. Carlos Ruiz, C
6. Freddy Galvis, SS
7. Cody Asche, LF
8. Tyler Goeddel, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

4. Harper heating up
Bryce Harper was a non-factor in the Phillies' last series against the Nationals, a series Washington still swept. He was hit by a pitch on the knee in the opener and missed the next two games.

But after a lengthy slump, Harper is getting hot again. He's 8 for 19 over his last four games with two doubles and three RBIs. He's seen more pitches to hit lately, with just one walk in his last 10 games.

The Phils' first two starting pitchers in this series, Hellickson and Aaron Nola, have struggled to retire Harper. He's 9 for 18 combined against them with a double, two homers and five walks. 

5. This and that
• Daniel Murphy has killed the Phillies again this season, hitting .353 with four doubles, two triples, two homers and five RBIs in 34 at-bats.

• Ben Revere still hasn't found his footing in Washington. After spending some time on the DL with an oblique strain, he's come back and hit just .188 with a .250 OBP in 128 plate appearances. He's also been caught on three of his five stolen base attempts.

• Herrera has gone a season-high five straight games without a walk, but he's 7 for 14 over his last four games. His .422 on-base percentage ranks fourth in the majors, behind only Ben Zobrist (.436), Paul Goldschmidt and David Ortiz (.425).

• Splitter-happy setup man Hector Neris appears to have hit a wall. He's allowed five runs and over his last 3⅔ innings and put 10 of the 21 hitters he's faced on base.

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