Hellickson’s OD start will begin critical season

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MLB.com is looking at every team’s Opening Day starter on Thursday. Hellickson, 29, got the nod a second time because he went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts last season. He tied a career high with 189 innings pitched, striking out a career-high 154. Hellickson happily accepted the honor, but acknowledged that he pulled for teammate Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.65 ERA in 33 starts).

Hellickson on Opening Day

But even if the Phillies made Eickhoff the man on Opening Day on Monday in Cincinnati, Hellickson’s season would not be any less eventful, as he once again is pitching for his long-term future.

Hellickson joined the Phillies following a trade with the D-Backs in November 2015. Nearly everybody expected the free-agent-to-be to be dealt before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but the Phillies never made a move. Then everybody expected him to sign a lucrative multiyear contract, but interest dimmed once the Phillies made him a qualifying offer, meaning any team that signed him would have to forfeit its top unprotected pick.

Hellickson instead accepted the qualifying offer and signed a one-year, $17.2 million contract.

He will become a free agent again this offseason, and this time — with no qualifying offer attached to him — he is expected to sign that multiyear deal. Of course, once again the Phillies are expected to move him before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. They should have more incentive than ever because they can’t get any Draft pick compensation in return this time.

“Hopefully we’re the ones trading for guys at the Deadline,” Hellickson said.

Hellickson holds Yanks to a run

The Phillies started 24-17 last season, based almost entirely on the strength of their rotation. Hellickson thinks the rotation can be better this year.

“I’ve been reading some stuff, obviously, saying [Aaron] Nola is a No. 5 guy,” Hellickson said. “If Nola’s your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong [innings] every time out. Then the guys we signed for the back of our bullpen, it’ll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don’t have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We’re in pretty good shape.”

Hellickson, 29, will be in great shape if he repeats last season’s success. He essentially bet on himself.

“That’s kind of how I’m looking at it,” Hellickson said. “It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I feel like I’m 100 percent again. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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