Phillies defeat University of Tampa to open spring

Jeremy Hellickson is one of two Phillies pitchers being considered to be the Opening Day starter (Phillies)

Jeremy Hellickson is one of two Phillies pitchers being considered to be the Opening Day starter (Phillies)

The Philadelphia Phillies are already off to a good start in the spring with a win over D-2 University of Tampa at Bright House Network Field on Sunday.

The team put up a 8-3 win over a college team that the Phillies fell to last season 6-2.

The bigger news out of the day was the fact that both Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola threw a combined 18 pitches in two perfect innings. Now the result will mean little in the long run, but the key point is, one of the two could be heavily favorited to be the team’s opening day starter on April 4 at the Cincinnati Reds. The pitcher not given the opening day nod is expected to be the starter of game 2 on April 6 as well as be in line to pitch the Phillies home opener on April 11 against the San Diego Padres.

“Yeah, I’d absolutely love the honor, but it doesn’t matter one bit,” Hellickson said to MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki about pitching Opening Day. “We’re going to need all five guys to pitch how we’re capable of pitching. I don’t really think it matters who starts it off, but at the same time, it’s a goal and it’d be fun.”

“It’d be a cool thing,” Nola said to Zolecki. “If you haven’t done it before, if you haven’t had an Opening Day start in your career, it would definitely be cool. But wherever they have me, I’m going to go out there and compete.”

Nola said he would be totally okay and understand if the team elected to ease him into the season and give the nod to Hellickson, who has a bit more experience, winning the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Award.
“Being on the field and competing against the batters, trying to get a win for the team, that’s the focus,” Nola said.
Last season, the 28-year-old went 9-12 with a 4.62 ERA in 27 starts with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Over the past three season, Hellickson has pitched 72 appearances (71 starts) to end with a 4.86 ERA.
If things don’t work out, Hellickson will become a free agent following the season, so having a big season this year would help him on the free agent market, plus if he pitches well, the team could deal him before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
“I just really need to get back to being consistent,” Hellickson said. “The last couple years I feel like I’ve thrown better than what the numbers said at the end, but my bad ones were just really, really bad. I couldn’t stop the bleeding in those big innings. I’ve just got to be better out of the stretch with guys on base. Just be more consistent every five days. I can’t give up one in seven [innings] one game and then give up five in three the next.”

As for the catchers, the Phillies are going to have a good problem on their hands.

Both Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp played well in the victory, even though Alfaro did go 0-for-2 at the plate with a walk and a run scored. It was his power that amazed the Phillies coaches in the first week of camp but after Sunday, he impressed them with his arm and legs.

He threw out a would-be base stealer in the fourth while beating out a double play in the first, which lead to a run for the Phils, while scoring from second on a ball hit to left in the third.

“I like to see that, boy,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He runs pretty good for a catcher.”

Knapp also had a good day at the plate, starting the day as the DH and then moving to the first in the seventh, going 1-for-3 with a walk, two RBI’s and a run scored. He ripped a bases-loaded single off Spartans first baseman Adrian Chacon‘s glove to score two runs in the first inning. Because of Knapp’s versatility, he was able to get the extra plate appearance.

“I like hitting bases loaded with one out. It’s easy,” Knapp said with a smile. “You can hit a ball like that and get a couple RBIs. It was good. I felt good at the plate today. I felt pretty comfortable. It’s nice to have (the ability to play first) in my back pocket if I can stay in the lineup that way.”

Oddly enough, Knapp had to borrow Darin Ruf’ glove since he doesnt own one. Entering the game, the Phils were shorthanded because Ryan Howard, Cody Asche and Brock Stassi missing the contest.

MLBPipeline.com has Alfaro ranked as the No. 96 prospect in baseball while Knapp earned the 2015 Phillies’ Minor League Player of the Year honors.

If things were perfect, both catchers will continue to improve and live up to their potential, which will leave the Phillies having to move one of them to a new position. It that happens, either could play in the outfield or first base.

“Whatever it takes to stay in the lineup,” Knapp said. “If that’s where I end up and I’m in the big leagues, I don’t think I’m really worried about it as much, you know? As long as I’m in the big leagues playing every day.”

The team will have off tomorrow before having a run of 17 games in 14 days starting with a home-and-away with the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday and Wednesday.

 

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