CLEARWATER, Fla. — There are things about the 2017 Phillies that will be different on opening day from a season ago, but it appears one feature could remain: Jeremy Hellickson beginning the year on the mound in Cincinnati.
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has not yet named his opening-day starter, and he would not do it when asked Monday. He did offer a hint about who would pitch April 3 at Great American Ballpark.
"Let's put it this way: He's probably got the best chance to be our opening-day starter," Mackanin said of Hellickson. "I'm not going to definitely announce it. Anything could happen during the spring. But he was [the opening-day pitcher] last year — and I'm not making the announcement he will be this year — but there's a good chance he might be."
Hellickson is the team's highest-paid player in 2017 at $17.2 million; the Phillies acquired him two winters ago and extended a qualifying offer last November that Hellickson accepted because he did not envision a strong enough market for his services as a free agent.
That, in retrospect, appears to be a wise decision. Three free-agent starters signed for more than Hellickson, but over longer terms: Rich Hill (three years, $48 million), Ivan Nova (three years, $26 million) and Edinson Volquez (two years, $22 million). Hellickson's $17.2 million was the highest average annual value awarded to a pitcher last offseason.
Hellickson, in last season's opener at Cincinnati, allowed one unearned run in six innings. He posted a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts.
"He's in a great frame of mind," Mackanin said. "He's so happy to be back here. I'm sure he would have liked to have a five-year, $100 million deal from somebody, but he's real happy to be here. So we're happy to have him."
Music to their ears
For the first time in recent memory, the Phillies practiced at the Carpenter Complex with a soundtrack. A speaker on the second level blasted an eclectic mix of rock, country and Latin pop.
Mackanin said he wanted to play the music last spring, but the team did not have a speaker system installed.
"This is the most fun time of the year," the manager said. "I want everybody happy. Why not? It keeps it lively."