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Nationals have Jeremy Hellickson on short leash, but he’s producing positive results...

Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez has kept Jeremy Hellickson on a short leash thus far, and he explained his thinking before and after Thursday afternoon’s series finale with the Pirates.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Jeremy Hellickson no longer throws the 95-96 mph four-seamer fastball he came into the league throwing. At this point in his career, the 31-year-old, nine-year veteran is more of a crafty righty.

“He knows how to get outs,” Washington Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters before Hellickson faced the Arizona Diamondbacks in his last start prior to Thursday’s outing in the series finale with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“That’s Helly. He changes speeds, he keeps you in the ballgame, and he gives us a chance to win, so I love when he’s out there.”

Hellickson gave up five hits, a walk, and two earned runs in 5 13 innings against the D-backs, throwing just 57 pitches in that start before Martinez went to the bullpen.

He talked after the outing, a loss in which he received no decision, about his ability to get outs pitching in the zone rather than trying to strike batters out.

“That’s what I’ve got to do,” Hellickson explained, “just get ahead with everything. I’m not going to strike a ton of guys out, so I’ve got to get guys out in the zone and get weak contact.”

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Hellickson generated plenty of weak contact Thursday afternoon, holding the Pirates to three hits over 5 23 scoreless, retiring 13-straight between the second and sixth innings before a two-out single by Adam Frazier ended his outing after just 61 pitches.

Before the start, Martinez talked to reporters about how he’s judging when to bring an end to Hellickson’s outings.

“The numbers say the third time through the order he goes through a rough time,” Martinez said, as quoted by MASN’s Byron Kerr.

“Hopefully today we score a number of runs and we can get him through that.”

“Last time Helly pitched,” Martinez continued, “he had [57] pitches and he was cruising, he looked great, and I thought, ‘Hey, he’s got good enough stuff to possibly get through,’ and all of a sudden he gives up a homer, so that changed quickly. But I try to — my biggest thing is to watch, see if their mechanics change, or see if they’re starting to get tired, a whole lot of different things, like I said, a lot of it has to do with where we’re at in their order.”

Hellickson gave up a hard-hit liner to left, and the two-out single in the sixth, and with lefty Gregory Polanco (1 for 2 today, 5 for 13 career vs Hellickson to that point) due up, Martinez made the decision to go to the bullpen there.

Jeremy Hellickson’s Line: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 61 P, 44 S, 7/0 GO/FO.

Washington held on for a 3-1 win, and after the game, the Nationals’ skipper told reporters how he decided when Hellickson was done.

“I didn’t really want him to face Polanco,” Martinez said. “We had [Sammy] Solis. So it was the perfect time. I don’t like doing it, because he’s pitching his butt off, but I’ve got to think about the other 25 guys, and he kept us in the ballgame, that’s all we ask him to do is keep us in the game.”

How has Hellickson reacted to the early hooks? “He’s a professional,” the manager said.

“He’s been really good. I mean, after the game I gave him a big hug, and he said, ‘Hey, we’ll get it.’ And I said, ‘I know you will.’ I said, ‘Keep us in the game, that’s all I ask. Keep us in the game, we’ll be fine.”

“Same as last game,” Hellickson said when asked for his thoughts on how the Nationals are handling him early this season.

“Would have liked a chance to get out of that, but he thought that was best right there, and I think part of the reason is I didn’t get a real Spring Training in. I really never got to six, seven innings before I left Spring Training so it’s probably taking it a little slow, but we won the game, that’s all that matters.”

Through four starts, Hellickson has put up a 3.00 ERA, a 3.76 FIP, four walks (1.71 BB/9), 13 Ks (5.57 K/9), and a .234/.272/.390 line against in 21 innings.

“Just throwing a lot of strikes, getting ahead,” Hellickson said when asked about his success on the mound early this season. “I think my first-pitch strike percentage is pretty good right now. With the defense that we’ve got, you just let them play, throw strikes, just trying to get early week contact.”

Martinez said he’ll give the righty a longer leash as he builds strength.

“Yeah, you’ve got to remember that he really hasn’t had Spring Training. He had I think five starts, and they were very abbreviated, extended Spring, so once we get going, once the summer gets going, he’ll get better. I mean, he’s been really good for five innings, he really has, and I anticipate that he’ll give us some more length as the weather gets hotter and he gets going.”