Phillies

Phillies

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.