By Sam Bush

The keenest competition in Phillies’ spring training is for the designation as opening day starter.

And Jeremy Hellickson and Aaron Nola’s performances in an 8-3 victory¬†yesterday against the University of Tampa was the beginning.

Whichever starter is chosen to start on April 4 against the Reds in Cincinnati, the other is expected to pitch the second game of the season on April 6.

“Yeah, I’d absolutely love the honor, but it doesn’t matter one bit,” Hellickson said about pitching opening day. “We’re going to need all five guys to pitch how we’re capable of pitching. I don’t really think it matters who starts it off, but at the same time, it’s a goal and it’d be fun.”

“It’d be a cool thing,” Nola said. “If you haven’t done it before, if you haven’t had an opening day start in your career, it would definitely be cool. But wherever they have me, I’m going to go out there and compete.”

Nola said he would understand if the Phillies told him they preferred to ease him into the season, giving the nod to the more experienced Hellickson, who won the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Award.

“Being on the field and competing against the batters, trying to get a win for the team, that’s the focus,” Nola said.

Hellickson, 28, went 9-12 with a 4.62 ERA in 27 starts last season with the D-backs. He has a 4.86 ERA in 72 appearances (71 starts) the past three seasons. The Phillies acquired him in an offseason trade with Arizona because they consider him a solid bounce-back candidate and they needed a veteran presence in the rotation.

Hellickson certainly has motivation to pitch well. He will become a free agent following the season, so a big year would help him on the open market. And if he pitches well, the Phillies could potentially deal him before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

“I just really need to get back to being consistent,” Hellickson said. “The last couple years I feel like I’ve thrown better than what the numbers said at the end, but my bad ones were just really, really bad. I couldn’t stop the bleeding in those big innings. I’ve just got to be better out of the stretch with guys on base. Just be more consistent every five days. I can’t give up one in seven [innings] one game and then give up five in three the next.”

Nola threw fastballs and curveballs in his short stint, although he said he will be making a concerted effort to improve his change-up this spring.