Hellickson hoping Phils can surprise people

Likely Opening Day starter expects rotation to improve

Hellickson hoping Phils can surprise people

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Jeremy Hellickson has handled the incessant questions about his future better than almost anybody.

He handled them remarkably well last year as the non-waiver Trade Deadline approached. He tackled them again late last season as free agency approached. He is almost certain to face them again this season after he accepted the Phillies' one-year, $17.2 million qualifying offer in November.

"I know it's coming," Hellickson said after allowing four hits and two runs in two innings Sunday in a 10-3 victory over the Blue Jays at Florida Auto Exchange Park.

But Hellickson, who is expected to be the Phillies' Opening Day starter, hopes something unexpected happens this season. He'd like to see the Phils surprise a few people.

Hellickson on rotation depth

"Hopefully we're the ones trading for guys at the Deadline," he said.

The Phillies were 24-17 early last season, based almost entirely on the strength of their rotation. Hellickson sees a rotation that can be better, a more experienced group that can enjoy sustained success deeper into the schedule. And if the offense can improve, perhaps it can make things interesting.

"I've been reading some stuff, obviously, saying [Aaron Nola] is a No. 5 guy," Hellickson said. "If Nola's your No. 5 guy, you have a pretty good rotation. I definitely think one through five we can give six, seven, eight strong [innings] every time out. Then the guys we signed for the back of our bullpen, it'll make our jobs that much easier. The days we don't have it, I feel like we can hand it off to those guys after five or six. We're in pretty good shape."

Hellickson, 29, should be in good shape if he replicates the success he enjoyed last season. He went 12-10 with a 3.71 ERA in 32 starts. He tied a career-high 189 innings, striking out a career-high 154.

Outlook: Hellickson, SP, PHI

He wanted a multiyear contract, but he accepted the Phillies' qualifying offer because it attached Draft pick compensation to him. A team would have forfeited its top unprotected pick to sign him, and that hurt his market.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Hellickson will be free of such restrictions this offseason.

Essentially, Hellickson bet on himself to have another good year.

"That's kind of how I'm looking at it," he said. "It was easy to do that just with the way I felt last year. I feel like I'm 100 percent again. I think I can definitely repeat or exceed what I did last year."

Extra bases

• Phillies prospect Dylan Cozens stole two bases. He has stolen 20 or more bases each of the past three seasons. Cozens is listed at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds. Only three big leaguers that height or taller have stolen 20 or more bases in a season, according to Baseball Reference: Darryl Strawberry (five times), Dave Winfield (four) and Corey Hart (twice). Only nine players 235 pounds or heavier have stolen 20 or more bases in a season: Hanley Ramirez (seven), Mike Trout (three), Jose Canseco (three), Jason Heyward (three), Vladimir Guerrero (twice), Jayson Werth (twice), Hart, Matt Holliday (once) and Derrek Lee (once).

Cozens' RBI single

• Manager Pete Mackanin likes what he sees from prospect Rhys Hoskins, who walked twice. He repeated what he said Saturday: Hoskins knows what he is doing at the plate.

• The club announced it has agreed to terms with its pre-arbitration-eligible players.

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.