Hellickson admitted that he could never generate any consistency in 2015 for Arizona, where he even spent Aug. 19-Sept. 10 on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain. He finished with a 9-12 record and a 4.62 ERA.
"You're right," he said after pitching 5 2/3 innings against the National League East-rival Mets, the performance ending when Yoenis Cespedes hit a two-run homer. "You know, it seemed like I'd throw two or three good ones and then a bad one. I just think there's a little bit more life to my fastball right now."
Phillies manager Pete Mackanin was asked what key he and pitching coach Bob McClure had turned on Hellickson when the three worked together in Clearwater, Fla., this spring.
"He was a left-handed pitcher before this year," Mackanin said without cracking a grin. "We turned him into a righty. We just saw something."
But seriously now, folks.
"Not really," Mackanin said. "We just let him pitch. We hadn't really seen him except facing him. He's healthy and I like the way he changes speeds. He just keeps hitters off balance and he locates. He has movement and did a great job today."
Hellickson kept the Mets off balance, retiring the first 11 batters until Cespedes, a right-handed hitter, punched a single the opposite way to break up the no-hit bid. Hellickson had walked one and struck out five when David Wright doubled to right with one out in the sixth.
Cespedes worked the count full and fouled off a number of pitches during the 11-pitch at-bat when he hit a changeup on a towering drive into the left-field seats.
It was Hellickson's 91st pitch, one too many, and Mackanin pulled him.
"Yeah, it was a changeup, probably one of the better ones I threw all day," Hellickson said. "It was just a good hitter hitting a good pitch, but I felt pretty good the rest of the day."
The Phillies obtained Hellickson from the D-backs for Minor League hurler Sam Williams last Nov. 14. The D-backs had decided to restructure their rotation, eventually signing free agent Zack Greinke and obtaining Shelby Miller from the Braves in a trade.
With the way the young Phillies rotation is structured, Hellickson is a veteran and gives the staff some ballast. At 29, he has six years of Major League experience, the first five for the Rays.
"It just feels good to throw well this early," Hellickson said. "I haven't had that much success in the last few Aprils. To get off to a pretty good start means a lot. I'm just keeping the ball down and feeling a lot better. That has a lot to do with it."