In his first two starts back following a hamstring injury, Jeremy Hellickson allowed 16 total hits and 12 runs, 11 of them earned over 8 2⁄3 innings combined (11.42 ERA) before tonight, with opposing hitters putting up a .372/.426/.698 line against him in those outings.
In the second, however, he was trying to pitch through a flu-like bug that was making its way through Washington’s clubhouse.
Hellickson did what he could over four innings, but ended up surrendering nine hits and nine runs, eight earned, in what ended up a 14-12 win over the Miami Marlins in Nationals Park, when his teammates picked him up and rallied from a 9-0 deficit for an improbable comeback win.
He didn’t wait around to talk to reporters after the outing, returning home to rest instead, but Nats’ manager Davey Martinez said he’d gutted it out for as long as he could to try to spare the Nationals’ bullpen a really long night.
Martinez stuck with him as long as he could in spite of the fact that seven of the nine runs that scored while he was on the mound came in over the first two innings, when he pretty clearly was dealing with the illness, but Hellickson told his skipper he could keep going.
“We talked to him after the second inning and he said he felt good, and the ball was coming out pretty good,” Martinez said, “so we left him out there, and he went back out there again, cause there again he said he felt fine and we needed length.”
Hellickson looked much sharper, and healthier, on the mound on Tuesday night in PNC Park, holding Pittsburgh’s Pirates to a walk and two hits through four scoreless on 53 pitches, and after Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer for a 2-0 Nationals’ lead, Hellickson returned to the mound for a 14-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth that ended up being his final inning of work.
Jeremy Hellickson’s Line: 5.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 Ks, 67 P, 45 S, 7/3 GO/FO.
With the two-run lead, the Nationals got a walk from Trea Turner and back-to-back singles by Daniel Murphy and Spencer Kieboom, loading the bases with one out, so Martinez got pinch hitter Mark Reynolds up and ended Hellickson’s outing there.
Reynolds walked to force in a run, and the Nationals scored two more on an RBI single by Adam Eaton and a second bases-loaded walk, this time by Juan Soto, 5-0. Martinez made the right choice.
“I think actually [Kieboom] got a hit before I was even on deck,” Hellickson told reporters after the Nats’ 5-1 win. “I was walking out to the plate and he called me back. That was it.
“I definitely understand. I mean it’s 2-0.”
“You had bases loaded,” Martinez explained, “you’ve got an opportunity to break the game open right there, so that’s what I decided to do. Mark has been swinging the bat really hot, Hellickson gave us five strong innings after coming off of being sick, I thought we could score some runs right there and we did.”
As for Hellickson’s outing?
“He kept the ball down when he needed to,” Martinez said, “his curveball was really sharp, his changeup was really good, but he attacked the strike zone, he got ahead, and he used his fastball, so that was nice.”
“I just felt good in general,” Hellickson said. “I think I had a pretty good changeup tonight.
“Just getting ahead was probably the biggest thing. Me and [Kieboom] were on the same page for the most part. I had some great plays behind me. Like I said throwing a lot of strikes.”
During his own postgame talk with reporters, Daniel Murphy, who 4 for 4 on the night, told reporters he was impressed with what he saw from Hellickson.
“It starts with all the zeros that Jeremy was able to put up today,” Murphy said.
“Threw the ball so well, kept them off-balance, threw the ball really well. After they put up six on us yesterday for him to come out and put up zeros early, as an offense it was great.”
Murphy went on to offer an insightful assessment of what allows Hellickson to keep teams off-balance like he did.
“He throws multiple pitches for strikes in any count,” Murphy explained.
“If he gets behind in the count he can throw offspeed pitches in the [strike zone]. He’s kind of just your old school criss-cross, so he can bring a two-seamer back off the hip, he can cut it in there, curveball changeup, it’s just any pitch in any count, so it’s very difficult to set in one zone or one side of the plate because he can get — he threw a really good backdoor cutter to Gregory Polanco today in a good at bat — and as soon as they called it I was like, ‘That was last thing I would expect,’ and he did, he just dropped it right there, so it was impressive.”