The Phillies played Wednesday for the 96th time this season, and there was greater importance in the pitch-by-pitch results, despite the patience dictated by this whole process. Jeremy Hellickson pitched for something bigger on an otherwise typical summer evening: a chance at the postseason, a more visible stage for the next two months while he vies for precious free-agent money this winter.
For eight innings in a 4-1 win over Miami at Citizens Bank Park, Hellickson advanced his future and that of his employer's.
"He was very determined to have a good game," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He looked a little bit more determined than I've seen in the past - not that he hasn't been determined, but he looked like he was totally focused. You're up against a good lineup like these guys, you have to be. He produced."
He struck out eight, walked none, and would have had a shot at a complete game had the Phillies not needed to pinch-hit for him in the eighth. He dazzled against Miami, a potential trade partner, as Marlins president of baseball operations Mike Hill watched from a stadium suite.
It is now a matter of when Hellickson will be traded. The expectation is that the Phillies will find a match in a seller's market. He will not change a contending team's fate, but he can be a useful addition - think Joe Blanton in 2008. Hellickson has pitched six or more innings in each of his last eight starts.
If the Marlins have real interest, it would be logical to consummate a deal before Monday, when Hellickson is again scheduled to oppose them in Miami.
But there are other factors. San Diego is reportedly trying hard to trade righthander Andrew Cashner within the next two days. He is of the same caliber as Hellickson, a mid-rotation rental. Other teams, like Baltimore, San Francisco, and Pittsburgh, have rotation needs. They were represented Wednesday by scouts at Citizens Bank Park, although those scouts have been here all series and are presumably scrutinizing Phillies relievers, too.
They saw Hellickson at his best. He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced and used just 34 pitches in three innings. He escaped trouble in the fourth and turned a bad bunt into an inning-ending double play in the fifth. He retired the last seven batters he faced.
"I guess I'm anxious just to get it over with," Hellickson said of the impending Aug. 1 trade deadline. He added: "My focus is here and on my next start."
But the mild-mannered Iowan knew the stakes Wednesday. When he erred with a fat fastball to Chris Johnson, who walloped a solo homer to left, Hellickson ripped his red Phillies cap from his head and shouted into his glove.
"I was pretty upset about it," Hellickson said.
The Phillies acquired Hellickson last winter for $7 million and a rookie-ball pitcher to serve as a rotation stabilizer with the ultimate intent to flip him at the deadline. The original investment looks shrewd.
Jake Thompson, who tossed six more scoreless innings Wednesday afternoon for triple-A Lehigh Valley, is a ready rotation replacement. The righthanded pitching prospect has a 0.58 ERA in his last nine starts. There is little left for him to accomplish in the minors, and he could be a big-league pitcher as soon as next week.
Will it be difficult to lose Hellickson's steadiness?
"Yeah," Mackanin said. "On the other hand, let's say you lost it and you had to move a young pitcher up here. I'd like to see that."
Tyler Goeddel, who played for the first time in 10 days, provided the needed offense before the second inning even ended. He launched a two-run homer in the first. He delivered a run-scoring single in the second.
The rookie, with a rare opportunity, thrived. So did Hellickson, who could make his next start with another team while the Phillies advance their reconstruction.