In three starts out of the All-Star Break before Friday, Jeremy Hellickson was (1-1) with a 4.70 ERA and a .302/.343/.508 line against in 15 1⁄3 IP, over which he’d walked one and K’d 10.
Heading into the start against the Chicago Cubs, Hellickson was coming off a 5 2⁄3-inning outing against the Cincinnati Reds in the nation’s capital in which he gave up four hits and two runs (both on solo home runs).
“I think they started sitting on his offspeed stuff, so he started going to his fastball a little bit more and his location was really good,” Davey Martinez told reporters after what ended up a 6-2 win over the Reds. “He was good.”
Hellickson was good again early against the Cubbies, walking the first batter he faced, but retiring 12-straight after the free pass, completing four scoreless and hitless on 46 pitches as the Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 lead.
A 13-pitch, 1-2-3 fifth pushed Hellickson up to 59 pitches, and 15 straight batters set down, and he was up to 17 in a row in the sixth when he issued back-to-back, two-out walks to Anthony Rizzo, in an epic, 13-pitch at bat, in which Rizzo fouled off seven two-strike pitches, and Javier Baez, who walked on four straight, giving the Cubs just their second runner in scoring position in the game.
Ben Zobrist stepped in next, and took the third straight walk, on four more pitches, loading the bases and forcing Davey Martinez to lift his starter with a no-hitter intact.
Sammy Solis took over with Jason Heyward at the plate, (.307/.358/.400 vs LHPs) and gave up a game-tying, two-run single to right, 2-2.
Jeremy Hellickson’s Line: 5.2 IP, 0 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 3 Ks, 89 P, 54 S, 6/1 GO/FO.
One inning later, Solis gave up a leadoff single by Kyle Schwarber, and back-to-back hits off Greg Holland, who took over on the mound, loaded the bases before a run-scoring walk to Anthony Rizzo put the Cubs ahead for good.
“Helly was cruising,” Martinez said after the game, “and after the at bat to Rizzo, I think he was done. You know, I mean, but he was pitching a no-hitter, it’s tough to take him out. But I knew once he got through that, he was [done]. And he came out, he said, ‘Yeah, I got a little bit gassed.’”
“I think I tried everything,” Hellickson said of the battle with Rizzo, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.
“That’s why he’s one of the best hitters in our game. He’s just always up there battling. Two outs, nobody on, starts a little rally. I just can’t walk guys right there. It just can’t happen that way. I’ve got to make them put the ball in play.”
It didn’t help that the Nationals, who scored two early, with a run in each of the first two innings, came up empty after that as the Cubs rallied and eventually overtook them.
“We jumped out early and then we had a couple more opportunities, couldn’t get nothing going,” Martinez said. “But Helly pitched well, our bullpen, Solis comes in to face Heyward and gives up a big hit, so we just got to keep going, keep going.
“I like the energy. It’s a tough loss. That was a tough one, but we’ve got to keep playing.”