PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Phillies manager Pete Mackanin admitted he was a bit uncomfortable when the grounds crew brought the tarp out to the field in the ninth inning Friday night with a heavy rain pouring down at Citizens Bank Park.
Hector Neris had just given up a home run to cut the Philadelphia lead over the Atlanta Braves to one, and Freddie Freeman, who’d already homered, was going to be the first batter Neris would face after what ended up being a 24-minute delay.
“It wasn’t a good thing to wait for,” Mackanin said.
But Neris made the wait worthwhile, barely, to help save a tremendous start by Jeremy Hellickson.
Hellickson turned in another solid outing, outdueled Bartolo Colon and got just enough run support to help steer the Phillies to a rain-delayed 4-3 win over the Braves.
Neris, who was given his first closing opportunity of the season Thursday, induced a Freeman pop out and retired Matt Kemp on a liner to right to get the first two outs of the ninth. He then got in a bit of trouble as Nick Markakis and Brandon Phillips slapped back-to-back singles to left field.
A visit from pitching coach Bob McClure settled down Neris and the righty struck out Tyler Flowers to end the game and notch his second save.
“They don’t quit,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “These guys, they play the game and they give you a hard 27 outs.”
Hellickson (3-0) retired the first nine batters he faced and cruised through seven innings of two-run baseball. The righty fanned five and walked none while allowing just three hits. He needed just 90 pitches to get through seven.
“He really kept them off-balance,” Mackanin said. “He is efficient because he throws strikes. He gets them to swing at his soft (stuff). He gets them out with everything he’s got.”
Hellickson’s 0.71 WHIP is among the lowest in baseball.
“I feel good,” Hellickson said. “Fastball command is better than it’s been in a long time. They’re just down. Not missing up too often. Just have to keep that up.
Joaquin Benoit pitched a clean eighth, setting the stage for Neris in the ninth.
The Phillies (7-9) have won three of their last four games. The Braves (6-10) dropped their fourth straight.
“We just got to keep playing,” Snitker said. “I don’t think we’re that far off.”
In a 3-2 game in the bottom of the seventh, Maikel Franco gave the Phillies an insurance run with an RBI groundout that scored Cesar Hernandez, who doubled off Colon to start the frame. Hernandez went 3-for-4 with two runs scored on the night.
Colon (1-2) allowed four earned runs in his seven innings of work. The Phillies battered him for 11 hits. He walked one and struck out four.
“He’s a guy that’s been in trouble a lot,” Snitker said. “That’s the value of having a guy with that kind of experience. He just has a way of making pitches when he needs to and limiting damage. He kept the game manageable and we were a hit away again.”
A Freeman home run — his seventh of the year — with two outs in the sixth brought the Braves to within a run at 3-2.
But Hellickson was unfazed. He retired Kemp next to end the inning and pitched a 1-2-3 seventh, fanning Phillips and Flowers to end his night on a high note.
With Hellickson dominating early, the Phillies got a quick lead on Colon.
In the bottom of the second, Michael Saunders laced a one-out double off the wall in left and eventually scored the game’s first run on a Freddy Galvis single that ricocheted off the large body of Colon for an infield single.
In the bottom of the third, Aaron Altherr followed a Hernandez single with an RBI double. Altherr was later brought to the plate on a Tommy Joseph single to make it 3-0.
Ender Inciarte was Atlanta’s first baserunner when he led off the third with a double to left field. Garcia drove him in with a single to get the Braves within 3-1.
NOTES: Phillies OF Howie Kendrick may be out longer than the Phillies originally thought. Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said prior to the game Friday night that an MRI revealed Kendrick had a “grade one strain of the anterior margin of his right exterior oblique.” Kendrick, who was put on the 10-day disabled list Tuesday and is hitting .333 in 39 at-bats, may miss two weeks. But Mackanin said they’re taking it “day-by-day.” … After a seven-game homestand, the Braves started a nine-game road trip Friday. … LHP Jaime Garcia (0-1, 4.67 ERA) gets the nod for Atlanta on Saturday against RHP Jerad Eickhoff (0-1, 2.75) of the Phillies.