Phillies 2016: Play Ball!

The Philadelphia Phillies will play their first game of the 2016 exhibition season on Sunday afternoon.

The temperature will rise to 70 degrees on what promises to be a sun-splashed Sunday afternoon in Clearwater, Florida as the Philadelphia Phillies kick off the 2016 season with an exhibition game today against the University of Tampa.

On what will also be a mild, sunny day back here in Philadelphia on which temperatures are expected to rise to 60 degrees, there will be a definite sense that Punxsutawney Phil got it right just over three weeks ago when he predicted it would be an early spring.

There will be fans in the stands and a festive atmosphere when the Phillies burst from their dugout at Bright House Field, and the first University of Tampa Spartans batter steps into the box against new right-handed starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (pictured), who played much of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Hellickson came to the Phils back on November 14th in a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor league pitcher Sam McWilliams. Exactly one year earlier, Hellickson had been dealt by the Rays to Arizona.

The 28-year old had been Tampa Bay’s 4th round choice in the 2005 MLB Amateur Draft out of an Iowa high school. He reached the big leagues by 2010, and became the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year after going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA while pitching 189.1 innings that year.

Hellickson won a Gold Glove the following year, but lost most of the 2014 season to elbow surgery in February of that year. He was dealt to the Dbacks the following off-season.

For Hellickson, this will be a one-year chance to show that he is healthy and effective. He turns 29 years old in April, and hopes that such a showing will find him rewarded with a multi-year contract from some team come next off-season.

A best case scenario for the Phillies would probably be realized with Hellickson pitching well for the season’s first four months while remaining healthy and strong. That might allow them to realize a decent trade return prior to the 2016 MLB trade deadline.

By later in the summer, at least one of the team’s top minor league arms from among Jake Thompson, Mark Appel, Zach Eflin, and Ben Lively is likely to be ready for a big league shot.

For today’s game, Hellickson is likely to only see two innings of work at most. The rest of the starting lineup goes like this:

  1. Odubel Herrera, CF
  2. Peter Bourjos, LF
  3. Aaron Altherr, RF
  4. Darin Ruf, 1B
  5. Andrew Knapp, DH
  6. Jorge Alfaro, C
  7. Emmanuel Burriss, SS
  8. Angelys Nina, 2B
  9. Ryan Jackson, 3B

The Spartans are an outstanding collegiate baseball organization with seven NCAA championships and 16 SSC championships in program history. The school has seen 71 players selected in the MLB Amateur Draft, with seven of those advancing to play in the big leagues.

The collegians have already been practicing together for some time, and in fact are a dozen games into their competitive schedule, so they should be ahead of the big leaguers. To this point, the Spartans have an 11-1 record, 3-0 in their conference. They have scored 89 runs in those 12 games, and are coming off a doubleheader sweep yesterday in which they scored in double-digits in both games.

The Phillies will begin their Grapefruit League schedule on Tuesday afternoon with a game against the Toronto Blue Jays beginning at 1:05pm in Clearwater. The following day they will take to the road, meeting the Jays in Dunedin.

We’ll be here with coverage of the games and any other substantive Phillies updates all spring long. Stay with TBOH at our home website thatballsouttahere.com, our Twitter feed of @FS_TBOH, and at our Facebook page. Always feel free to make comments or suggestions on our coverage. It is our goal to become one of your favorite sources of Phillies information.

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