The Philadelphia Phillies are looking to awaken their slumbering offense. Atlanta Braves right-hander Joel De La Cruz is just looking for a victory.
De La Cruz (0-7, 4.66 ERA) will oppose Jeremy Hellickson (10-8, 3.80 ERA) when the National League East rivals open a three-game series Friday night in Citizens Bank Park.
De La Cruz, a 27-year-old rookie, signed with the Braves as a free agent in December, having previously pitched in the minors for the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals and Milwaukee Brewers.
His struggles have continued even as the National League's worst team has gone on a rare hot streak, winning four of five and five of seven. De La Cruz has pitched to a 6.60 ERA over his last four outings.
Most recently he was tagged with a 7-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants, lasting just four innings and allowing six runs (three earned) on seven hits. He struck out two without walking a batter.
De La Cruz surrendered four consecutive two-out hits in the first inning, including an RBI single by Brandon Belt and a two-run double by Joe Panik. He then yielded a two-run homer to Angel Pagan in the second, after an error by second baseman Jace Peterson.
"(De La Cruz) threw the ball OK, but when (your defense) makes some miscues, you've got to be able to get the next guy out," Braves manager Brian Snitker said, according to Major League Baseball's official web site. "He wasn't able to do that. I think in the third inning, things were little bit better and crisper. But to assess his performance, it wasn't real good."
He has faced Philadelphia three times this season, twice as a starter and once as a reliever, going 0-1 with a 3.27 ERA over 11 innings.
The Phillies, who have lost five of six, are last in the major leagues with 492 runs, and their .238 team batting average is next-to-last. They are also hitting an MLB-worst .224 at home, and managed three runs on nine hits while being swept in a three-game series by the Nationals earlier this week.
"Nine hits in a three-game series isn't going to cut it," manager Pete Mackanin said after a 2-1 loss in Wednesday's series finale. "We're just not hitting the ball. We need more offense, obviously."
Hellickson leads the Phillies in victories, and 15 of his first 18 outings were quality starts. Last time out, however, Hellickson went just four innings against the New York Mets, his second-shortest appearance of the season, and allowed five runs on seven hits to absorb a 12-1 loss.
Hellickson, who saw his ERA balloon from 3.60 to 3.80, gave up a two-run homer to Asdrubal Cabrera in the third, and a three-run homer to Yoenis Cespedes in the fourth.
"I just lost command of pretty much all three pitches tonight," Hellickson told MLB.com. "I think the two home runs were probably two of the better fastballs that I threw. It's a good lineup. It's hot right now."
Hellickson is 1-0 with a 3.09 ERA in two career starts against the Braves.