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“He opened up for us last year and had a real good year for us,” Mackanin said. “I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he earned the right.”
Hellickson made his first career Opening Day start at Great American Ball Park on April 4, 2016, and allowed one unearned run and three hits in six innings. He walked none and struck out six.
Hellickson is coming off a 12-10 season in which he set career highs in strikeouts (154) and starts (32) and tied his high in innings pitched (189). His 3.71 ERA was second among Phillies starters to Jerad Eickhoff (3.65).
“We talked [Eickhoff] but we just felt [Hellickson] was the right thing to do for a number of reasons,” Mackanin said. “Eickhoff is certainly a darn good starting pitcher. As are the other guys.”
“It’s a huge honor, it definitely matters,” Hellickson said. “There’s another guy on our staff who probably deserved it a little more, in my opinion. What [Eickhoff] did last year was pretty remarkable for his first full year. I would have loved to have seen him get it. But I see plenty of Opening Day starts in his future.
“Everyone wants to take the ball on Opening Day. You never take it for granted. Last year being my first one, it was something I’d dreamed of and Cincinnati was an awesome place to do it. I think the parade woke me up at nine o’clock in the morning. They put on a good show Opening Day, so it’s going to be exciting.”
Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez in the home opener and Aaron Nola, in that order, are projected to complete the rotation. Buchholz’s wife is expecting this month, which could scramble that plan slightly.
“I feel good about the rotation,” Mackanin said. “Especially with Velasquez and Nola [who started the second game last year] at four and five, whichever way they go. We just have to be careful with both of them. We don’t want to baby them, but it’s a nice rotation when you have those two guys at the end.”
Nola missed the final two months of last season with a strained elbow, while Velasquez spent time on the disabled list in June with a biceps strain.
A free agent at the end of the season, Hellickson accepted the team’s one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer.
That makes him a potential trade chip at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. And he’ll be able to test the market again next winter. So this could be his last opener with the Phillies.
“I love it here,” he said. “I’m not thinking about anything other than taking the ball on Opening Day and trying to win as many games as we can this year and see what happens.”
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
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