Perhaps the most surprising performance this season for the Phillies was that of Jeremy Hellickson.
When the team acquired him from Arizona in November, the move seemed more of a safety net. Hellickson had been known as an “innings eater” in his career, and with a young staff as is, bringing in Hellickson would provide some stability as the prospects worked their way up.
It turned out, though, that the 29-year-old was the best pitcher in the Phillies rotation.
“I just felt good every time out,” Hellickson said following his start against Miami on Sept. 17.
That outing proved to be the pinnacle of his 2016 campaign. The right-hander tossed his first complete game shutdown since 2011. With a week remaining in the season, Hellickson finds himself atop the rotation with 12 wins, 150 strikeouts and a 3.78 ERA in 185.2 innings.
He credits his off-the-mound preparation for his bounce-back season. Before arriving in Philadelphia, Hellickson had gone 10-17 with a 4.57 ERA in the previous two seasons.
“I felt good in between starts,” Hellickson said. “I’m recovering like I was earlier in my career so I’m able to work on some stuff in the bullpen and am able to work out a little more than I have. I’m just feeling really good.”
Now here is where things get tricky.
It was a welcomed sight to see Hellickson respond like he did in his first year with the Phillies, but his effort most likely earns him a sizable pay check this offseason. His one-year, $7 million deal expires this winter, which means the Iowa native will look to cash in.
The Phillies would love to have him back next year as he proved to be every bit of an innings-eater while also looking dominant at times. Hellickson also meshed well with the younger guys, proving to be somewhat of a mentor to players like Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff.
Hellickson will test the market, looking to maximize his value — as he should — after going through a two-year stretch where it looked as though he had fallen off the map. Philadelphia would be wise to make an offer, but not at the expense of getting into a hole when it comes time to offer new deals to the younger stars.
If Thursday’s start against Atlanta proves to be the final time Hellickson dons the red and white pinstripes, it’ll be a one-year stint where he did everything he was supposed to and more. If not for Hellickson being a rock atop the rotation, especially when some of the younger guys dealt with injuries, this season could have really plummeted sooner than it did.