CINCINNATI -- Jeremy Hellickson pitched so well Monday that many wondered why he did not pitch a little longer.
They wondered even more after the Phillies' bullpen allowed five runs in the eighth inning in a 6-2 loss to the Reds on Opening Day at Great American Ball Park. Of course, the reality is even if Hellickson had pitched an extra inning, the Phillies said they planned to have David Hernandez open the eighth. Hernandez started the Reds' five-run rally by loading the bases with a pair of walks and a double.
"I absolutely would have loved to be out there again, but the bullpen is going to be better than they were today, that's for sure," Hellickson said afterward.
But the Phillies left the ballpark encouraged with the way Hellickson threw in his debut. He allowed just three hits and one unearned run in six innings. He struck out six, including Reds slugger Joey Votto three times.
Votto is one of the best hitters on the planet, but he looked lost against Hellickson. He awkwardly waved his bat at third strikes in the first, fourth and sixth innings like a man trying to swat mosquitoes in the dark. It was the first time Votto struck out three times in his first three plate appearances since May 15, 2014, against the Padres' Tyson Ross.
Hellickson became just the ninth pitcher to strike out Votto three times in one game, according to Stats Inc.
"I was just mixing it up as much as I can," Hellickson said about Votto's at-bats against him. "He's one of the best hitters we've got in the game, so you just don't want to give him the same pitch twice. You try to mix it up as best as you can."
Hellickson threw just 79 pitches. He had thrown more in a Spring Training start, so he could have pitched at least another inning, but Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had seen enough.
"It's his first outing and he pitched very well," Mackanin said. "We thought about letting him back out there. But you bring in [Jeanmar] Gomez [in the seventh], and he does his job. We figured we have got to try to find the formula for winning games when the pitcher can't go into the seventh or eighth. Gomez was the seventh, we went to Hernandez for the eighth and it didn't work."
Hellickson gets another opportunity Sunday afternoon against the Mets at Citi Field. He hopes to carry a strong spring and a solid Opening Day start through the rest of the season. It would be good for both himself and the Phillies. Hellickson is a free agent following the season, while Philadelphia could trade him to a contender in July, if he is pitching well.
"It definitely helped that I felt really good this spring, and then to get a good one in the first start, and now I'll try to keep it going throughout April," Hellickson said.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.