(CSN Philly) — Phillies manager Pete Mackanin on Monday said he was not ready to name an opening day starter “because anything can happen in the spring.”
But Mackanin dropped a strong hint that veteran Jeremy Hellickson will get the nod for the second straight year when the Phillies open the season in Cincinnati on April 3.
“He’s probably got the best chance to be our opening-day starter,” Mackanin said after Monday’s workout. “I’m not going to definitely announce it because anything can happen in the spring. He was last year. I’m not making the announcement that he will be, but there’s a good chance he might be.”
Jerad Eickhoff, who led the Phillies’ starting staff in innings (197⅓) and ERA (3.65) last season, is another candidate for the start, but it sounds as if he will slot in behind Hellickson.
On paper, the Phillies’ opening week rotation — barring something unforeseen — could be Hellickson, Eickhoff, Clay Buchholz, Vince Velasquez and Aaron Nola. Of course, as Mackanin said, “anything can happen in the spring,” so all of this is early-camp guess work.
This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise but let’s run through this, shall we? Hellickson, in his second year with the Phillies, has established himself as a strong veteran presence. Although he most likely won’t end the season as the Phillies #1 starter (he probably won’t be the staff’s ace in May), Hellickson was one of two starting pitchers to make it all the way to the end of the season. He’s an up-and-down starter, but the guy has experience; can’t really beat that. Eickhoff being the next-in-line also makes the most logical sense considering he was the other pitcher who made it all the way through the 2016 campaign. He will also likely move down a notch in the rotation’s depth chart but I’d expect Eickhoff to be one of the more consistent starters to kick off the year.
Clay Buchholz is a guy I’m pretty excited for, actually. I think the move to the NL East will greatly benefit his stock considering he doesn’t have to face the powerhouse lineups the AL East presents. One argument where I would give Buchholz the nod for Opening Day is based off his stats on the road compared to the rest of the Phillies starters. Buchholz’ ERA on the road was a lot better away from Fenway last season. The only issue with reading these stats is that Clay only started 8 of his 19 appearances after the All Star Break. Similarly to Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez, both of whom battled injuries and were subsequently shut down in the final stretch of the season, what we’re going to get out of Clay Buchholz is up in the air. And as the article states numerous time: “anything can happen in the spring.” My guess is the rotation come Opening Day is Hellickson, Buchholz, Eickoff, Velasquez, Nola.
The article also talks about Zach Eflin’s return to the mound after having double knee surgery in the fall. I saw Eflin pitch a few times last year and really enjoyed what I saw out of him. Although with the starting rotation the Phillies currently have, we likely won’t see Eflin in the show again until either one of the pitchers gets hurt or the Phillies inevitably try to flip Buchholz for a few more pieces. Any way you shake it, the Phillies will still be a fun team to watch develop this year; especially as the spring moves along!
Who do you think should start Opening Day for the Phils? Let me know in the comments. Stay tuned for more spring training coverage!