When the Diamondbacks made the deal for right-hander Jeremy Hellickson last November, this was the kind of game they had in mind.
After eight uneventful starts to the 2015 season, Hellickson seemed to transform drastically, experienced a commendable turnaround, and delivered perhaps his best effort of season Sunday. Exiting with the lead against the Chicago Cubs, Hellickson was in a position to win this game, but could not lose the contest.
In the end, the bullpen of Andrew Chafin, Addison Reed and Brad Ziegler, who recorded his second save of the season, carried Hellickson beyond the threshold. In what could be an important outing, Hellickson seems to shake the cobwebs of adjusting to the National League and a new set of teammates to deliver the kind of effort the organization expected.
His eventual 4-3 victory over the Chicago Cubs before 39,660 in Chase Field Sunday afternoon could signal a departure from past mediocre starts.
Coming into the Sunday start, Hellickson had not won since April 19 in San Francisco (his only victory before Sunday), and experienced four no-decisions and one loss in his last five starts. Though his last start was another no-decision against the Marlins on May 19, Hellickson went six innings and allowed only two runs.
On Sunday against the Cubs, manager Chip Hale pulled the plug with two outs in the seventh, but Hellickson ended with four hits allowed, three runs and tossed 93 pitches.
“I think are a few reasons for better starts,” he said. “I’m throwing better between starts, and I’m keeping the ball down more consistently.”
While Hale says there needs to be better first pitch strike, Hellickson agrees. As Hellickson works on pitch efficiency and economy, the period of adjustment appears in the rare view mirror, he said.
“From spring training, there were a few things out there,” Hellickson pointed out. “I came over to a new league and in trying to prove myself, maybe I was too perfect. I fell behind hitters and that lingered. I’m starting to relax more with each start.”
On Sunday, Hellickson delivered two bad pitches, a solo homer from Miguel Montero with one out in the second, and a two-run shot off the bat of Chris Coughlin in the fifth that marred an otherwise creditable effort.
In taking two of three from the Cubs, Arizona moved to within one game of .500 at Memorial Day, and reaching that level has surprised many pundits.
Not to the participants.
“Good series, and the Cubs are a very good team,” said Hale afterward. “We have another tough road trip ahead, but as we have said all season, we’ll take them one game at a time.”
If Hellickson kept the Cubs at bay, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt supplied the bulk of the offense.
Driving in Ender Inciarte with a first inning single, Goldschmidt then sent a laser deep beyond the center field fence for a two-run homer in the third. Sandwiched between his three RBIs, Hellickson picked up his first major league RBI. Here, his sacrifice fly in the third scored Nick Ahmed, who tripled to start the inning.
For Goldschmidt, the blast was his 12 homer of the season and raised his RBI total to 38 driven across the plate.
“I was looking for something to hit hard,” Goldschmidt said “(Cubs starter Jason Hammel) made a mistake. All I’m looking to do I get good at-bats. In any game, we’re looking to score as many runs as we can.”
Still, Goldschmidt’s elite stature in the game and his ability to deliver hits which directly impacts games continues to amaze.
“It looked like the home run was a flick of his wrist,” Hale said. “He has such great mechanics in his wrists and is so patient.”
Now, the Diamondbacks hit the road for a critical three-game series in St. Louis, and then three in Milwaukee.
“They have some great starters and their bullpen is very good,” Goldschmidt said of the Cardinals staff. “We just have continue to get good at-bats, and be aggressive at the plate.”
ON THE ROAD AGAIN
After a brief three-game home stand against the Cubs, the Diamondbacks are back on the road for their next six games.
The journey begins in St. Louis and the Cardinals, here at Memorial Day, possess the third best record in the majors.
Righty Chase Anderson (1-1, 2.54 ERA) opens the trip against Red Birds’ right-hander Carlos Martinez (4-2, 4.08). That’s a 3:15 p.m. start, local time Monday afternoon.
On Tuesday night, righty Archie Bradley (2-1, 4.00) takes on right-hander Jaime Garcia (3-2, 257) and in the finale Wednesday night, right-hander Josh Collmenter (3-5, 5.19) takes the hill against St. Louis lefty Lance Lynn (3-4, 3.46).
Then, it’s off to Milwaukee for three against the Brewers before returning home for a seven-game home stand against the Braves and Mets.