For first time in years, Phillies don't have a proven ace

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Four Aces to none.

The Philadelphia Phillies will enter their first season without any remaining members from a star-studded rotation that was baseball's best for a year in 2011.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels helped the Phillies win a franchise-record 102 games and their fifth straight NL East title five years ago. But the Phillies lost to St. Louis in the division series and haven't reached the playoffs the past four seasons.

Halladay, Lee and Oswalt have retired. Hamels was traded to Texas last summer. Rebuilding Philadelphia has a group of prospects and a couple veterans, but no clear-cut No. 1 starter yet.

Jeremy Hellickson, the 2011 AL Rookie of the Year, and Charlie Morton were added in the offseason to give the starting staff more experience. Second-year starters Aaron Nola and Jerad Eickhoff will join them in the rotation. The fifth spot is up for grabs this spring with several guys competing for the job, including Adam Morgan, Vince Velasquez and Brett Oberholtzer.

Mark Appel, a former No. 1 overall draft pick, Jake Thompson and Zach Elfin are top prospects who could pitch in Philadelphia later this season.

''I want the guys that can get people out,'' manager Pete Mackanin said.

Hellickson was 9-12 with a 4.62 ERA for Arizona last season. He pitched his first five seasons for Tampa Bay and has a 49-48 career record with a 3.94 ERA. The right-hander, who turns 29 in April, is the likely candidate to start opening day. He was scratched Wednesday because of the flu.

''I'm just trying to get to know the guys and answer any questions they have,'' Hellickson said of mentoring the younger pitchers. ''They know they just have to keep doing what they've done to get here and not worry about all that other stuff.''

The 32-year-old Morton was 9-9 with a 4.81 ERA for Pittsburgh last year. He's 45-70 with a 4.54 ERA in seven seasons for the Pirates and one for the Braves. Morton is a groundball pitcher who is looking forward to pitching at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park.

''If you can pitch to contact and pitch to weak contact, especially ground balls, I think you'll do really well,'' he said.

Nola the 7th overall pick in the 2014 draft, fast-tracked to the majors and went 6-2 with a 3.59 ERA in 13 starts in 2015. Eickhoff, acquired in the Hamels' trade, was 3-3 with a 2.65 ERA in eight starts. A broken right thumb has slowed Eickhoff, but he's expected to be ready for the start of the season.

Morgan was 5-7 with a 4.48 ERA in 15 starts last year. The lefty tossed three scoreless innings on Tuesday.

''The competition in here is just making everybody else better,'' Morgan said.

Velasquez and Oberholtzer both were acquired in the trade that sent closer Ken Giles to Houston. Velasquez was 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 19 games, including seven starts in 2015.

''My mindset is to just go out and pitch just as any other pitcher,'' he said.

Oberholtzer was 11-20 with a 3.94 ERA for Houston in his first three seasons. The 26-year-old lefty grew up a Phillies fan. He's already earned praise from Mackanin.

''He's got a bulldog mentality and he looks like he's aggressive on the mound,'' Mackanin said. ''No fear. Goes right after hitters.''

Thompson, also acquired from Texas for Hamels, was 5-1 with a 1.80 ERA at Double-A Reading after the trade. He has top-of-the-rotation potential. So does Appel, who came from Houston in the Giles' trade. Appel was 10-3 with a 4.37 ERA in Double-A and Triple-A last season.

---

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.