CINCINNATI - Jeremy Hellickson saw third-base coach Juan Samuel wave his arms wildly, allowing the pitcher to believe for a moment on opening day that he had a chance for an inside-the-park homer.
Samuel instead stopped Hellickson at third, a blessing for the pitcher as he chugged around the bases in the sixth inning of a 4-3 win over the Reds on Monday at Great American Ballpark. It was a big hit - providing the run that proved to be the difference - but the triple also exhausted the pitcher's afternoon.
"I'm never doing that again," Hellickson joked. "I'm stopping at second no matter what."
Hellickson struggled to catch his breath after becoming the first Phillies pitcher to triple on opening day since 1918. The game was already mired by a thunderstorm. Now, he was winded. Hellickson lined a ball to right field and Scott Schebler's dive was unsuccessful, allowing the ball to bounce to the wall. Last time Hellickson hit a triple? "Probably never," he said.
The Phillies, who celebrated the unlikely knock with fervor on the bench, told Hellickson to take his time before returning to the mound. Hellickson remained in the dugout for an extended period before starting the bottom of the sixth.
"I was trying to regroup," Hellickson said. "I was struggling, though."
Hellickson lasted just one batter in the sixth after hitting his triple. Adam Duvall roped a double to center and Pete Mackanin lifted his pitcher after only 67 pitches. It was a combination, the manager said, of Hellickson's pitch count, the triple, the bases-loaded jams he escaped in the third and fourth, and the heavy air from the storm.
"He did a good job getting us into the sixth inning," Mackanin said.
Hellickson cruised through the first two innings, needing just 18 pitches to retire the first six batters he faced. Then the storm came. Hellickson seemed to lose a bit of command in the third and fourth as rain poured but the game was not delayed. He managed to limit the Reds to just one run, which scored in the third on a sacrifice fly.
"I just lost a little feel with the curveball," Hellickson said of the storm. "It was more the mound. The rain wasn't really affecting me, more the landing spot."
It was the type of outing the Phillies hoped to receive from the anchor of a young rotation. More starts like Monday - and less triples - should help the team's chances this summer to flip their $17 million investment at the trade deadline.
"I was catching my breath for about 30 minutes after I got back in here," Hellickson said. "Last time I'll be doing that."