The Philadelphia Phillies have begun to organize their starting pitching rotation for the 2016 MLB regular season.
Over this past off-season, new Phillies general manager Matt Klentak knew that he was going to need a couple of veteran starting pitchers to help bridge the team from the innings provided a year ago by veterans such as Aaron Harang and Jerome Williams to the bevy of strong pitching prospects still developing in the minor league system.
To that end, he went out and obtained both 28-year old, 6-year veteran Jeremy Hellickson and 32-year old, 8-year veteran Charlie Morton. Now comes the announcement that Hellickson will become the club’s Opening Day starter in Cincinnati. Morton will start the regular season’s third game, with young Aaron Nola sandwiched in between the two.
This will mark the third different Opening Day starting pitcher for the Phillies, the fourth in the last five years. Roy Halladay made three consecutive such starts from 2010-12, followed by Cole Hamels in 2013, Cliff Lee in 2014, and Hamels again last season.
Hellickson’s start will probably turn the clock back for many fans to the early-2000’s when, following a period in which Curt Schilling had made five of six Opening Day starts to close out the 1990’s, the Phils sent out Andy Ashby (2000), Omar Daal (2001), and Robert Person (2002) as a mediocre first starter.
“Nobody is better than the next guy as far as we’re concerned,” manager Pete Mackanin said per Philly.com’s Matt Gelb. “Hellickson has experience. He’s been pitching really well, so we’d like him to be the opening-day starter.“
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Hellickson could serve two purposes for the Phillies this season. He could stay healthy and pitch well enough at the front of the rotation that he becomes a valuable trade piece come the July deadline. That scenario could see him eat up just enough innings to allow someone such as Jake Thompson or Mark Appel to finish their minor league development.
There is also the possibility, albeit a longer shot, that Hellickson could be viewed as a long piece for the Phillies rebuilding program. Perhaps he pitches decently, the club doesn’t like what they are being offered, and they approach him with a 2-3 year deal. If his price were reasonable enough, he might become a bridge starter for a few years, rather than just a few months.
Hellickson owns a 49-48 career record over his first half-dozen big league seasons spent with the Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks. He was the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year with the Rays, and won a Gold Glove the following season. He has allowed 748 hits over 786 career innings in 142 appearances, 135 of those as a starting pitcher.
So far this spring, Hellickson has pitched well in just two official starts, limited for a couple of weeks by a bout with the flu. He has allowed just two hits in seven innings pitched, with an 11/3 strikeout-to-walk ratio at this point. It is likely that he will receive two more Grapefruit League starts before the regular season opener against the Reds.