Jeremy Hellickson’s late start to the 2018 campaign, after signing a minor league deal with the Washington Nationals in mid-March, had Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez monitoring the pitcher carefully in his first few starts.
Since he wasn’t at full strength yet, and had a history of issues the third time through the lineup, Martinez’s plan had been to limit the righty to 5-6 innings in his first outings.
“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,” Martinez explained after he got Hellickson after 5 2⁄3 innings and just 61 pitches against the Pittsburgh Pirates last time out.
Hellickson went 5 1⁄3 on 57 pitches the start before that, after going 4 2⁄3 on 88, and 5 1⁄3 on 93 the first two times out in the Nationals’ rotation.
What was different in the last two outings before Tuesday’s in Petco Park that allowed the right-hander to be more efficient?
“I’ve been pleased with all four of them,” Hellickson told reporters after holding the Pirates scoreless in D.C. “The last two have been a little better. I feel good.”
In his first four starts, the veteran starter put up a 3.00 ERA, a 3.74 FIP, four walks (1.71 BB/9), 13 Ks (5.57 K/9), and a .234/.272/.390 line against in 21 innings.
Hellickson retired the first 18 Padres’ batters he faced on Tuesday night in San Diego, but he gave up a leadoff single by Travis Jankowsky in the first at bat of the seventh, and allowed a two-out hit single by Franchy Cordero on his 91st and final pitch of the night.
Jeremy Hellickson’s Line: 6.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 8 Ks, 91 P, 59 S, 6/5 GO/FO.
The runners Ryan Madson inherited were both stranded, and the Nationals went on to a 4-0 win.
Hellickson’s curve was well-nigh unhittable. He threw 26 total curves, 16 for strikes, and got four swings, and nine swinging strikes with the pitch.
“Everything was good tonight,” Martinez told reporters after the win.
“His changeup was good, it had great action. His fastball had some zip. He located his fastball really well. He was on today.”
Hellickson threw 18 of 27 fastballs for strikes (66.7%), 13 of 19 changeups (68.4%), and 12 of 18 sliders (66.7%).
“He was throwing strikes,” Martinez said. “All his pitches were working. He was working ahead in the count. And that’s what you get from Jeremy when he’s on.
“He throws his curveball, changeup, cutter, two-seamer, everything is over the plate and he’s pitched really well.”
Did Hellickson think he had a shot at a perfect game?
“Everybody says they don’t think about it,” Hellickson told reporters, including MASN’s Mark Zuckerman. “But once you get to the fifth, sixth inning, you can’t help but think about it.”
What was Martinez thinking?
“You just let it ride. You really do. I just told [pitching coach Derek Lilliquist], I said, ‘We’re not going to do anything, don’t get nobody up, let him just keep on going.’
“I said, ‘We’ll see what happens.’”
Once Hellickson gave up the first hit, and then another, Martinez decided that was it.
“As soon as he gave up a hit, I mean, he was up there, his pitch count was up there,” the skipper explained.
“I said, ‘Let’s just get somebody and see where he goes.’ We get two guys on, he did his job. And he was happy.”
Martinez, who was the bench coach in Tampa Bay when Hellickson was with the Rays, was asked if he thought the righty was going out there with something to prove after having a rough time of it in 2017.
“I think for the most part he’s healthy, and we’re gradually — I told him, ‘Look, it’s going to get warmer, you’re going to start — your pitch count is going to get up to 85-90 pitches, trust me.’ I said, ‘But I’ve got make sure I take care of you, and don’t read into this whole three times around the order. I know you can pitch. I’ve seen you pitch into the seventh, you’re going to be fine.’ And today he was outstanding.”