Phillies

Jeremy Hellickson named Phillies' opening day starter

Jeremy Hellickson named Phillies' opening day starter

Updated: 12:50 p.m.

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Pete Mackanin has made it official.

Jeremy Hellickson will be the Phillies' opening day starter for the second year in a row two weeks from Monday in Cincinnati.

"He opened up for us last year and he had a real good year for us," Mackanin said Sunday morning. "I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he earned the right after last year."

Mackanin's choice is not surprising. Earlier this spring, he mentioned that Hellickson had the "best chance" to get the opening day nod. The right-hander, who will turn 30 on April 8, went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts for the Phillies last season.

Hellickson pitched six walk-free innings, gave up three hits and just an unearned run while striking out six in his the first opening day start of his career last season in Cincinnati.

"Everyone wants to take the ball on opening day," Hellickson said. "To do that is a huge honor and I'm excited for it. It's going to be a fun atmosphere. Last year being my first one, it was something I'd dreamed of, and Cincinnati was an awesome place to do that so it will be fun again this year. I'll try to do the same thing I did last year because it was one of my better starts."

Hellickson was one of two candidates for the assignment. Mackanin and his staff debated whether to give Jerad Eickhoff the nod after he led the staff in starts (33) and ERA (3.65) last season.

"It just seemed like the right thing to do," Mackanin said of the decision to go with Hellickson.

Eickhoff, 26, will start the second game of the season.

"He's a darn-good pitcher," Mackanin said.

Hellickson would have had no qualms if Mackanin went with Eickhoff.

"There's another guy on our staff that probably deserved it a little more than me, in my opinion. That's Eick," Hellickson said. "What he did last year was pretty remarkable for his first full year. I would love to have seen him get it. It would have been awesome but I see plenty of opening day starts for him in the future."

Hellickson joked that maybe he got the start "by default of being the older guy from last year."

But he will cherish the assignment, nonetheless.

It could be his last opening day start as a Phillie.

Hellickson could have been a free agent after last season, but he opted to return after the Phillies extended him a qualifying offer of $17.2 million in the offseason. That makes him the highest-paid player on the club for 2017.

The Phillies entertained trade offers for Hellickson last summer, but could not swing a deal to their liking. The team will listen on Hellickson again this summer and there could be more urgency to deal him because he is bound for free agency (the team can not make him another one-year qualifying offer) and is probably not a long-term fit as the Phils look to build a young rotation.

None of that is on Hellickson's mind at the moment.

"I love it here," he said. "I'm not thinking about anything else other than taking the ball opening day and trying to win as many games as we can this year and see what happens.

"Taking the ball opening day is special no matter what. To come back here -- I'm having a blast with these guys again and hopefully, we're having a lot of fun during the season."

After Hellickson and Eickhoff, the Phillies will send Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola to the mound.

Velasquez lines up to pitch the home opener April 7 against the Washington Nationals.

Manny Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, not happy with a couple reporters

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Manny Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, not happy with a couple reporters

There’s been a lot of back and forth so far this offseason in the national media with regard to Manny Machado. This week alone, ESPN has contradicted itself in reporting the number of years Machado has been offered by the White Sox.

Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, isn’t happy with how negotiations have been portrayed in the media, calling a couple of national reporters out by name.

You can understand why, because if the Buster Olney report Wednesday is accurate, the White Sox offer would be hard to take seriously (see story).

Lozano acknowledges this in the statement, but a contributing factor to the madness in the national media this winter has been the pace of the MLB offseason, which has gotten uncontrollably slow. When two superstars linger in free agency and delay the process this long for solid players available behind them, it invites speculation and games of leverage.

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Manny Machado sweepstakes are set up for Phillies to win

Manny Machado sweepstakes are set up for Phillies to win

Updated: 5:30 p.m.

If Manny Machado is still the Phillies' preferred big-ticket free agent — and the belief here is that he is — there is no excuse for them not landing him.

We base this on some new reporting from Buster Olney of ESPN. Olney reports that the Chicago White Sox, considered the Phillies' main competitor in the Machado sweepstakes, have offered the player a seven-year contract worth $175 million.

This is remarkably low considering Machado — and the game's other mega free agent, Bryce Harper — entered the offseason looking for record deals of more than $300 million.

To put this in perspective, there are already 13 players in the big leagues on deals of $175 million or more.

The Phillies have deep pockets and they have been gearing for this offseason for several years. If the number cited in the ESPN report is true, then the Phillies undoubtedly will blow by it — they probably already have — and make the most lucrative offer to Machado. Even if the White Sox were to add a year and $25 million (the average annual value of their offer) to their pitch to Machado, the Phillies would have no trouble blowing by that. There are a dozen players in the majors making at least $25 million per season. This is hardly stupid money, to use the phrase that has become legendary in these parts.

So, it's time to lock this thing down and go get Machado, especially if that $175 million figure is accurate.

Of course, issues remain in the Phillies' pursuit of Machado.

One is the Yankees. Are they in or are they out? Sources say they like Machado but won't go crazy to get him. Well, the prices being cited are hardly crazy. Maybe even the Cardinals would jump in at the White Sox' number. But would either of these teams spend stupid money? Probably not. Advantage Phillies.

The other factor is Harper. The Phillies had a very nice get-to-know-you meeting with him Saturday in Las Vegas, but there has been no firm sign that he has zoomed past Machado as the team's preferred free agent and there has been no firm sign that Harper prefers the Phillies over other suitors.

What is undeniable is that the Phillies have long pursued Machado. Their front office has been angling for ways to get him for two years. They tried to get him in July and are pursuing him at the moment. Now comes news that the Phillies' chief competitor hasn't even reached $200 million in its offer. This thing is shaping up beautifully for the Phillies, a team whose greatest resource is just what Machado is looking for — money.

Now, none of this ensures that this drama is about to reach an end. Surely, Machado and his representatives can't be thrilled that the market for the player isn't, well, more lucrative. Surely, they will wait this thing out and try to push the price higher.

Later Wednesday afternoon, Machado's agent, Dan Lozano, issued a sharply-worded statement and called Olney's report false and reckless.

Surely, Harper will continue to look for something more than the $300 million he reportedly turned down from Washington and may or may not still have on the table.

Other than Olney's report today, things seem very quiet on the Phillies' pursuit of these top two free agents. At least not a lot of new information has been revealed. This quiet could signal that talks between the Phillies and Machado have reached a sensitive stage. Or maybe talks between the Phillies and Harper have reached a sensitive stage.

The guess here is that the Phillies are still on Machado and this thing is set up for them to win.

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