LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It's only March 8 and already projected Phillies opening day starter Jeremy Hellickson has worked his way up to four innings in an outing.
"I don’t think I've ever gotten to four innings this fast," the right-hander said after his outing Wednesday afternoon against the Atlanta Braves.
Jerad Eickhoff is scheduled to pitch four innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday.
Things are moving just a tad quicker this spring because teams reported to camp a few days earlier because of the World Baseball Classic.
Hellickson gave up five hits and two runs in his four innings of work Wednesday. He projects to make four more starts before the April 3 season opener in Cincinnati. To slow the clock just a little, he said he expects to get an extra day of rest between at least two of those starts. That will be the plan for the entire rotation.
Hellickson is happy with his progress.
"I felt great," he said. "I'm very pleased where I'm at. The ball is coming out great."
Manager Pete Mackanin liked the look of Hellickson's changeup Wednesday.
Hellickson likes the way his curveball feels.
He led the majors in spin rate on his curveball last season and opposing batters hit just .161 and slugged just .264 against the pitch.
Teammate Vince Velasquez is trying to improve his curveball this spring. He ranked 74th in the majors in spin rate last season among the 117 pitchers who threw 200 or more curveballs. If Velasquez can improve the spin on his curveball he will be able to bury it down in the strike zone where hitters can't hurt him. Velasquez left too many curveballs up last season, a big reason why batters hit .297 and slugged .581 against the pitch.
"If Vinny gets that pitch going, he's going to be tough," Hellickson said.
Not much offense
The Phillies eked out a first-inning run against Braves starter Bartolo Colon but had only four hits on the day and lost, 3-2.
The Phils are 7-5-2 on the spring.
Maikel Franco and Roman Quinn drove in the Phillies' runs. Quinn had a base hit and Franco took advantage of an infield-back situation and picked up and RBI on a groundout to second in the first inning.
Mackanin was pleased with that at-bat.
"Ground ball to the right side, get an RBI," Mackanin said. "It takes time, but he's starting to use the middle of the field. If he continues to do that, he's going to be real successful. He had 88 RBIs last year. Those are the kind of RBIs that are easy to get and can take you to 100."
Eickhoff will start against Blue Jays lefty Francisco Liriano in Clearwater on Thursday.