(Philly.com) — It appeared all but certain last July that Jeremy Hellickson would finish the season wearing something other than red pinstripes. He had pitched well, the trade market was barren, and the Phillies were not invested long term in the veteran righthander.
Now, Hellickson is now the team’s highest-paid player, and he will start the first game for the second straight season — even if he thinks someone else is more deserving.
The team on Sunday named Hellickson, who turns 30 in April, its opening-day starter. The 2017 season will begin just as the 2016 one did, with Hellickson on the mound at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.
“He opened up for us last year and he had a real good year for us,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “I have a lot of confidence in him. I think he earned the right after last year.”
With Hellickson atop the rotation, the Phillies are likely to follow with Jerad Eickhoff and Clay Buchholz in Cincinnati. Then, for the home opener at Citizens Bank Park, Vince Velasquez would oppose Washington. That makes Aaron Nola the fifth starter. He started the second game last season.
Hellickson is the first Phillies pitcher to start consecutive opening days since Roy Halladay started three in a row from 2010-12. Mackanin said the team discussed the idea of opening with Eickhoff, a younger pitcher who posted a lower ERA and proved his big-league value, but instead chose experience.