Five years removed from being American League Rookie of the Year, Jeremy Hellickson finds himself being the “old man” of the Phillies rotation. Surprisingly for the just turned 29-year-old Hellickson, it’s not virgin territory.
“After they traded (David) Price and (James) Shields in Tampa I was the oldest guy on that staff,” revealed Hellickson, the Phils’ opening day starter, who became the elder statesman when 32-year-old Charlie Morton went down for the season with a torn hamstring. “Then the same thing last year in Arizona. The only difference is the other four guys are just 23-24 opposed to when I was oldest guy and there were a couple of 27-year-olds. But these guys are mature beyond their years, so it’s not like I’m teaching them stuff.
“It’s fun to be around a younger group.”
The feeling is mutual among the Phils’ “young guns,” Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and Morton’s replacement, Adam Morgan.
“He’s been helpful in teaching us how to approach the game,” said Nola, who follows Hellickson in the rotation order. “I like watching the video of his game, because I feel we’re similar in some ways. We can learn just by watching him and seeing his approach to hitters.”
Hellickson is happy to be oblige, wishing in retrospect he’d been as inquisitive.
“When I was rookie I was a little more timid than these guys,” said Hellickson who went 13-10 with a 2.95 E.R.A in 2011 to beat the Angels' Mark Trumbo and Royals’ Eric Hosmer decisively for Rookie of the Year (he still keeps the trophy in his living room). “I didn’t ask as many questions as I should. That’s why I try to stay open to these guys as much as possible. They’re always trying to learn and they’ve all had a little experience from last year so it’s not like they’re brand new.
“I learn from them. They learn from me. It’s been fun so far.”
Especially with the Phillies unexpected winning, their only blemish in the past week coming when Hellickson — coming off seven shutout innings in a win over the Nationals — served up three homers in St. Louis Monday, including a three-run bomb by opposing pitcher Adam Wainwright that turned the game around.
But he’s learned to shake it off and move on to the next start; another lesson he’ll try to pass on to the rest. Of course you don’t have to be a starting pitcher to appreciate that.
“We had a pretty young staff and he was the guy we leaned on,” said David Hernandez, Hellickson’s teammate in Arizona last year, before both resurfaced here. “Your career’s pretty much a blink of an eye. You look one day and you’re the veteran of the staff. But he’s very knowledgeable and helps guys out. I actually played against him when I was in Baltimore and he was in Tampa.
“He always had good stuff, knew how to pitch and get guys out.”
In the process he’s become that steadying influence any rotation needs. Whether ultimately that leads to a prolonged stay here or a ticket out of town for the rebuilding Phils, Jeremy Hellickson knows he belongs.
“I still feel young,” said Hellickson, who signed a one-year $7 million contract after the Phils’ acquired him in the offseason for minor league righthander Sam McWilliams. “Obviously, I’ve been around a few years. But I know if you just take care of your body you can play a long time in this game.”
Then perhaps, like Jeremy Hellickson, you, too, can someday be the old man of the rotation.