The Phillies announced Sunday that their opening day starter would be a pitcher named Jeremy Hellickson. Thankfully, the Phillies employ a pitcher with that name, so they don’t have to find someone with that name to start the very first game of the entire year.
This will be Hellickson’s second opening day start with the Phillies. In 2016 he started on the road in Cincinnati, and that was just the start of Hellickson’s unexpectedly effective and productive season. He had a 3.71 ERA over 189 innings and 32 starts. That’s as close as he’s come to recapturing the early-career magic that catapulted him to the 2011 Rookie of the Yar
Some people might be upset that Jerad Eickhoff wasn’t named the opening day starter. Opening day is the first game, and while it holds zero statistical importance, it holds a lot of symbolic importance. With his spring training performance combined with his steady, metronomic 2016, you could say that Eickhoff earned the gesture from the Phillies of starting opening day. And you would be reasonable to think any of those things.
But before we go too far down that road, let’s remember a few things. Hellickson, who had spent zero official time on the Phillies this time last year, got the opening day start in 2016. He got that start instead of Aaron Nola, who had also more than earned an opening day start with his 2015 performance. Instead, the rotation was set up for Nola to start the home opener, which I think has more significance than opening day if the season doesn’t start at home. For the first game at Citizens Bank Park in 2016, the Phillies started the pitcher who they considered (and still do consider) to be a huge part of their future rotation.
I don’t think opening day starter is a huge deal, since it’s largely symbolic and oftentimes at the mercy of rotation needs through the first week. But if it does mean something, Hellickson definitely earned it. Imagine how excruciating 2016 would have been without his steady presence in the rotation, what with Vince Velasquez’s volatility and Nola’s... well, everything. And beyond that, he was just good.
So congratulations to Jeremy Hellickson, and may the regular season get here as soon as humanly possible.