Phillies: Which Pitcher Will Start on Opening Day for the Team?

The Phillies have several candidates to be the 2017 Opening Day starter, but no one is the clear-cut favorite for the role.

For once, the Phillies rotation is more or less decided heading into spring training. The only question mark regarding who will be in the rotation is whether or not Aaron Nola will be ready Opening Day, but all signs have pointed towards him starting the year healthy. Otherwise, the only thing that is still up in the air is who will get the ball on Opening Day.

In 2016, Jeremy Hellickson got the nod to start on Opening Day in Cincinnati because of his experience in the major-leagues. Manager Pete Mackanin told Matt Gelb of Philly.com, “Hellickson has experience. He’s been pitching really well, so we’d like him to be the opening-day starter.”

Clay Buchholz has three more years of experience in the majors compared to Hellickson, so if Mackanin based it soley on age Buchholz would start. However, Hellickson would likely get the nod over Buchholz because this is his second season in Philadelphia and he is coming off a much better season.

On the other hand, the Phillies may decide to stray away from their veterans in favor of their younger pitchers.

The only pitcher who started more games than Hellickson last year was Jerad Eickhoff, who made 33 starts in 2016. He also led the team in ERA and innings pitched, and walked the eight-fewest batters per nine innings among all qualified starters.

Eickhoff told Michael Barkann on Philly Sports Talk that he would be honored to be the Opening Day starter as part of their “Quick Six” segment.

When asked what it would mean to start Opening Day, Eickhoff responded, “It’d mean the world, to be honored with that would be great. Something I never thought I’d be able to do…I’d be very honored and privileged.”

CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury said the honor belongs to Eickhoff because “he’s earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.” Salisbury also argued that Eickhoff has shown he can face off against the best, pitching against Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and now-Boston lefty Chris Sale. In those three starts, he allowed just six earned runs over 19 innings.

Finally, Salisbury also posited that Eickhoff should start because he will be with the Phils for several more years, while Hellickson will likely leave after this season in free agency. According to Salisbury, “Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future.”

While Salisbury offered up just two candidates for the Opening Day starter, I would like to bring up one more: Aaron Nola.

Before he went off the rails in 2016, Nola was pitching like a true ace. In his first 12 starts of the season, Nola struck out 27.2% and walked 4.8% of opposing hitters. He allowed a .209 batting average and carried a 2.65 ERA, 2.75 FIP, and 0.99 WHIP. If the Philies really do consider him the ace of the future, it would only make sense that he would start the first game of the season.

However, there are certainly reasons against Nola starting Opening Day. As mentioned earlier, he may very well not even be ready to start the year after missing the last two months of the 2016 season. The team may want to ease him back into things after not pitching in any live games for so long. They may also opt to have him start the home opener, which is the fourth game of the season, as he did last year.

There are several candidates to start Opening Day, although none stands out as the favorite. Hellickson, Eickhoff, and Nola all offer their own drawbacks and advantages, so it will be interesting to see what the team does as the first game of the season draws closer.

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