PITTSBURGH — His club mired in a miserable funk that's drained all the momentum from a promising April, Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin called a team meeting before a weekend series in Pittsburgh.
While Mackanin declined to go into the "recipe" of what was said, for one night Jeremy Hellickson provided the most important ingredient for winning baseball: good pitching.
Hellickson settled down quickly after a rocky first inning, retiring 16 of the final 17 batters he faced as the Phillies pulled away for a 7-2 victory over the Pirates on Friday night to snap a four-game losing streak. It was the kind of performance that was reminiscent of Hellickson's tremendous play in April when he went unbeaten while posting a 1.80 ERA.
"In April I was making mistakes, and they're outs, (batters) were missing," he said. "That's how the game goes sometime, but tonight I was definitely better. I mixed it up more than I have."
Hellickson started the night winless this month with a 7.90 ERA. It looked like more of the same early when Pittsburgh scored twice in the first on an RBI-double by Josh Bell and a throwing error by Philadelphia shortstop Freddy Galvis.
Then just as quickly, Hellickson (5-1) found a rhythm, allowing only a two-out walk in the fourth to Andrew McCutchen over his final five innings. Hellickson was only at 84 pitches through six but left after feeling his back tighten up after smacking an RBI double to left in the top of the seventh that pushed Philadelphia's lead to 4-2.
Mackanin came out to chat with Hellickson before removing him as a precaution. Hellickson anticipates being able to make his next turn in the rotation.
Galvis and Maikel Franco had two hits each for the Phillies. Cameron Rupp added a three-run homer in the ninth to give Philadelphia's struggling bullpen plenty of breathing room.
Bell had two of Pittsburgh's three hits. The Pirates came in with some momentum after winning a series against National League-leading Washington but generated nothing against Hellickson's eclectic variety of changeups and breaking pitches.
"We got our second hit with our second hitter and we didn't get our third hit until the ninth inning," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "Not a lot of activity. Not a lot of hard contact. He made his pitches. He won a bunch of games last year. He shows the ability to do it. He does it in a way you don't see done every day and he did it to us tonight."
Philadelphia's bullpen, which posted a 6.34 ERA during the first six games of the current road trip, made sure the lead stood up.
Trevor Williams (2-3) pitched effectively for five innings before the Phillies got to him in the sixth to take the lead. The Phillies didn't push Williams around but instead pecked away, eventually moving in front after Cesar Hernandez led off with a walk and Daniel Nava doubled. Hernandez scored on a groundout by Aaron Altherr and Nava followed after a sacrifice fly by Tommy Joseph. Williams allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings, walking two.
"We're getting better," said Williams, moved into the rotation earlier this month after Jameson Taillon went on the disabled list after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. "We're getting that routine. The pitch count is going up. So we're where we need to be in terms of starting right now."
Phillies: Nava left after five innings with left hamstring tightness. He was replaced by Michael Saunders, who was held out of the starting lineup a day after leaving a loss to Texas with tightness in his left groin. ... Reliever Jeanmar Gomez (right elbow impingement) went through a bullpen session without incident on Thursday. If Gomez completes two more bullpen sessions, Mackanin said the team may opt not to send Gomez out on a rehab assignment.
Pirates: Taillon is upbeat less than two weeks after being diagnosed with testicular cancer. The 25-year-old remains out indefinitely and will undergo tests next week before the next step in the treatment process begins. "Everything I've gotten back regarding (previous test results) I've taken as good news," Taillon said. "It could be a lot worse."
Phillies: Vince Velasquez will make his second career start against Pittsburgh. Velasquez (2-3, 5.67) gave up three runs, two earned, in five innings last Sunday against Washington.
Pirates: Ivan Nova (3-3, 2.48 ERA) will search for his first victory in May on Saturday. Nova was the NL Pitcher of the Month in April but is winless in his last three starts.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball