Jeremy Hellickson dealt with hamstring and wrist injuries in 2018, but he managed to make a strong enough impression on the Washington Nationals that they were willing to give the right-hander a second consecutive one-year deal.
Hellickson, 31, posted a 3.45 ERA, a 4.22 FIP, 20 walks (1.97 BB/9), and 65 Ks (6.41 K/9) in 19 starts and 91 1⁄3 innings. He told reporters in West Palm Beach, Florida this week that he did enough, in his mind, that he thought he proved his value to to the Nationals, and earned an opportunity to take the fifth spot in Washington’s rotation this season.
“The big thing for me,” Hellickson said, as quoted by MLB.com’s Jamal Collier, “... was I didn’t want to come into camp and have to compete for a job again. I felt like I proved myself enough last year where I didn’t have to do that.
“That was part of the dialogue when we were talking. That’s kind of where we left it. I haven’t really heard much after that.”
While nothing is going to be handed to the righty, Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez did acknowledge when he spoke to reporters on Friday afternoon, that the nine-year veteran starts the Spring as the frontrunner for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Aníbal Sánchez.
“For me he’s got the upper hand right now,” Martinez said. “I mean he’s pitched really well for us, I mean he really has. But, that doesn’t mean, like I said, we’ve still got two months before Opening Day or whatever, so I want these guys to come out and compete. [Erick] Fedde, Joe [Ross], Henderson [Alvarez], and they all understand that and they all know that.”
The options he has to choose from weren’t necessarily there before the Nationals added both Sánchez and Hellickson, but the additions will force Martinez to make some tough choices this Spring.
“What I love about our team right now is that we have depth,” he said. “I really do.
“Obviously we have Hellickson back. You’ve got Joe, you’ve got Fedde, and my concern with them is that they’ve both been — one’s coming off Tommy John, the other one has been hurt the last couple of years on stints. So we have to be very careful.
“We’ve got another guy that I saw throw today in Henderson Alvarez, who threw the ball really well, but I like the depth, and these guys are going to compete, and they’re going to compete for that fifth starter spot and we’ll see what happens at the end of Spring.”
With the top four spots set, barring injuries or setbacks in Spring Training, some of the arms in camp competing for the fifth spot with the Nationals will end up making the cross-county trip to Fresno, California once the regular season starts, or they might end up in the bullpen working long relief.
“Right now it’s hard to say,” Martinez explained. “We’ll have to see where they’re really at.
“For some of the young guys I’d rather see them go down to Triple-A, I really would, and get some innings in, build up some innings, get some confidence going, and then when we need them they’re ready, and they’re available. That’s not to say that we won’t do something different, but I would rather see them go down there and get their starts in and build their innings up, and then like I said we’ve got to be careful.”
Ross is coming off Tommy John, so his innings will be limited to some degree, and Fedde, who had Tommy John surgery in college, has struggled to stay healthy early in his career, so the rotations additions this winter did not come as much of a surprise.
“As you guys know it takes more than five starters to get through a season,” Martinez said, “but like I said in the beginning, our depth is so good right now, it’s a good problem to have.”