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.

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

Brock Stassi appears headed for big leagues as Phillies' roster comes into focus

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Busy, busy day of roster moves in Phillies camp.

Let's try to put it all in perspective.

First, the facts:

Veteran infielder/outfielder Chris Coghlan was released from his minor-league contract.

Right-handed pitcher Alec Asher was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for a player to be named later or cash.

Infielder Pedro Florimon and relief pitchers Cesar Ramos, Hoby Milner, Pat Venditte and Colton Murray were all informed that they will not make the opening day roster, but they remain in big-league camp as non-roster invitees.

OK, what does it all mean?

Let's start on the position-player side. The starting eight is set, but there are still openings to fill on the bench before the team's charter flight lifts off from Tampa International Airport early Friday evening.

Barring something unforeseen, infielder Andres Blanco, outfielder Aaron Altherr and catcher Andrew Knapp will all make the 25-man roster. That leaves two openings on the bench.

Coghlan, a former National League rookie of the year and member of last year's World Series-winning Chicago Cubs team, asked for his release after the club raised the possibility of him signing an advance consent form. Advanced consent gives a team more control of a player and also allows a team to release a player with no further financial commitment up to 45 days into the season. Coghlan decided to move on, as was his contractual right, and is expected to land with another club.

Coghlan's departure reduced the field of candidates for the two bench jobs to three -- Brock Stassi, Daniel Nava and Jesmuel Valentin.

All signs point to lefty-hitting first baseman/outfielder Brock Stassi being rewarded for his excellent spring with a spot on the roster. The 27-year-old from the Sacramento area, the team's 33rd-round draft pick in 2011, has never played in the majors.

With Stassi looking good, the final spot on the bench is down to Nava and Valentin. They are two very different players. Nava is 34 and has five years of big-league service time. He is in camp on a minor-league deal, essentially looking to keep his career alive. Valentin, on the other hand, is 22 and very much a prospect. The team must decide if it wants to go with the veteran outfielder or the young second baseman for the final spot on the bench.

"With the way Stassi, Nava and Valentin are playing right now, one way or another we’re going to be making tough decisions on the bench," general manager Matt Klentak said.

With Asher off the 40-man roster, the Phillies have the space to add Stassi.

They would need to create one more spot, probably by waiving a player, if they want to keep Nava.

Valentin is already on the 40-man roster so the team would not have to lose a player to keep him, but doing that would cost the young player the development opportunity that would come with regular at-bats in Triple A.

"I'm not opposed to starting that way if he wins the job and that's how we open," Klentak said of Valentin. "If we concluded after a few weeks that playing time just isn't there and we need to send him back down and get somebody else up, we can do that. That's the beauty of roster flexibility and having players on the big-league club with options. We can make those decisions in real time throughout the year."

So let's move on to the bullpen.

Five spots are set with Jeanmar Gomez, Hector Neris, Edubray Ramos, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek.

It's likely that the team will go with seven relievers. That means there are two open spots with three candidates -- Adam Morgan, Joely Rodriguez and Luis Garica -- still standing. All three are on the 40-man roster so that makes the personnel mechanics a little easier. 

The team probably needs a long reliever and Morgan profiles as that guy.

Rodriguez and Garcia are both scheduled to pitch in separate games on Wednesday so their performances will be worth watching, though Klentak said not all roster decisions are based on spring performance. 

Garcia has had a number of chances in the majors the last four seasons. He has recently added a splitter and team officials are intrigued by that so he has remained in the mix.

There is a slim chance the team could carry all three of these relievers and go with an eight-man bullpen and a short bench, but that would be tough to do in the National League. When the decisions are made, look for a five-man bench and a seven-man bullpen.

But, remember, things can change quickly on a 25-man roster once the season begins. Ender Inciarte was on the Phillies' opening day roster in 2013 and gone a day later. Cedric Hunter was there last year and gone two weeks later.

"We have to make sure we're disciplined to the notion that the end of spring training is not a finish line," Klentak said. "The end of spring training is the starting line for a long major-league season. Whatever we can do to preserve as many assets and players and different possibilities as we can, we need to factor that in as we're making out our opening-day roster."

Donald Trump declines invitation to throw out 1st pitch on opening day

Donald Trump declines invitation to throw out 1st pitch on opening day

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Nationals say President Donald Trump has declined an invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before their game on opening day.

A spokeswoman for the baseball team said Tuesday that the White House said Trump would not be at next week's game at Nationals Park against the Miami Marlins because of a scheduling conflict.

Washington hosts Miami next Monday afternoon.

President Barack Obama threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Nationals' opener in 2010, marking the 100th anniversary of a presidential pitch to start the season. William Howard Taft first did it on April 14, 1910.

Rays: Acquire former Phillie Bourjos from White Sox
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Tampa Bay Rays have bolstered their outfield depth, acquiring speedy Peter Bourjos from the Chicago White Sox for cash or a player to be named.

The deal Tuesday potentially provides the Rays with a right-handed hitting backup for Gold Glove center fielder Kevin Kiermaier.

Bourjos hit .251 with five homers and 23 RBIs in 123 games with the Philadelphia Phillies last season. He signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on Jan. 30 and batted .313 in 19 spring training games.

The 29-year-old has also played for the Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals over seven seasons.

The White Sox also announced left-handed pitchers Cory Luebke and Matt Purke were assigned to minor league camp.

Indians: IF Ramirez signs 5-year deal
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Cleveland Indians signed versatile infielder Jose Ramirez to a five-year, $26 million contract.

Ramirez's deal includes club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.

The sides agreed to the deal last week and Ramirez passed his physical to finalize a contract Tuesday that locks up one of Cleveland's core players for the future. The Indians have also had talks with All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor this spring about a long-term deal.

The 24-year-old Ramirez had a breakout season in 2016, when he helped the Indians win their first AL pennant since 1997.

In his first major league season, Ramirez batted .312 with 46 doubles, 11 home runs, 76 RBIs and 22 steals. He played four positions and hit in every spot in Cleveland's batting order, picking up the offensive slack after left fielder Michael Brantley was limited to just 11 games following right shoulder surgery.