Jeremy Hellickson’s 2018 campaign ended when he re-injured his right wrist in a September 15th start against the Atlanta Braves in SunTrust Park. Hellickson initially injured the wrist on a play at the plate in St. Louis in mid-August.
He returned to the mound a month later for his 19th start of the season. It ended up being his last outing.
“It’s definitely really frustrating,” Hellickson told reporters, as quoted by the Washington Post’s Chelsea Janes, after his final appearance of the season, which left him with a 3.45 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 20 walks (1.97 BB/9), and 65 Ks (6.41 K/9) in 19 starts and 91 1⁄3 innings.
Hellickson also missed time in June when he suffered a hamstring injury, but returned to the mound to make nine starts before first injuring the wrist.
“All three of these injuries have been pretty frustrating. All three out of my control. I love taking the ball every fifth day and competing and just going out there with these guys. To only make 19 starts, it sucks.”
“It’s been tough for him,” Nationals’ Manager Dave Martinez added. “Weird injuries. Has nothing to do with his arm. His arm is in great shape.”
Hellickson showed enough in 2018 to convince the Nationals to bring him back on what is reportedly a 1-year/$1.3M deal which includes incentives that could earn him up to $4M in 2019.
Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo talked early last season about the decision-making in giving the veteran starter a one-year deal last March, when the right-hander was casting about for a contract after a rough 2017 season which saw him put up a 5.43 ERA, a 5.77 FIP, 47 walks (2.58 BB/9), and 96 Ks (5.27 K/9) over 30 starts and 164 innings for the Baltimore Orioles and Philadelphia Phillies.
“Jeremy has been through the battles before,” Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN in D.C.’s Sports Junkies after Hellickson debuted with the Nationals in mid-April.
“He’s a veteran,” Rizzo said.
“A young veteran, but he’s a veteran of a lot of seasons. He knows himself, he’s knows what type of pitcher he is. You saw the type of guy he is. He’s a touch, feel, finesse right-handed pitcher that has to sink the baseball and spin the breaking ball. We really like his poise and his moxy on the mound.”
A month later, after the 31-year-old, nine-year veteran put up a 2.20 ERA in six starts and 32 2⁄3 IP, Rizzo discussed the Nationals’ approach to using the righty, controlling his inning and pitch counts, and avoiding, for the most part, having him face opposing lineups a third time through.
“Jeremy has been terrific for us, and we all know the statistics the third time through,” the GM explained.
“So far we’ve managed his innings terrifically, he’s pitched outstanding for us and he’s been a great addition to the club and he has fit in in the clubhouse perfectly, and it’s a pretty seamless fifth start when we run him out there, so I think depending on the bullpen and depending on the situation in the game we’ll utilize him differently in different scenarios.”
Given how the Nationals felt about Hellickson’s contributions, it probably shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that they ultimately brought him back this winter, adding another fifth starter option to the back of the rotation behind Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin, Stephen Strasburg, and Aníbal Sánchez. Hellickson joins right-handers Joe Ross and Erick Fedde as the most likely options for the fifth and final spot.
Rizzo explained late last May why the Nationals were willing to take a chance on Hellickson bouncing back after he’d struggled with the O’s and Phillies.
“This was, again, our pro scouts who saw him pitch last year, we thought that this guy was going to have a bounce-back year,” Rizzo told the Junkies.
“You’re talking about a past Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove winner, a guy who does a lot of good things on the pitcher’s mound to help a team win. Gold Glove fielder. Controls the running game, throws strikes, not afraid, attacks hitters, has a good plan, and analytically, the analytics guys really liked him. We had a plan coming in. We know third time around the order was an issue for him in the past, we had faced him several times when he was with the Phillies, Davey knew him when he was with the Devil Rays, and so we had a good feel for him.
“A lot of these things help, that we have the years that we have in here, we have experience level, we have guys that have been around, and somebody knows just about every player that we think about acquiring, so we know the make-up of these players, the work ethic, how they fit into a clubhouse. We always have an opinion on what the players is, and bringing a player in is often a much broader question more so than what his fastball is and that type of thing.
“Credit again to our pro scouts and the guys who worked it and the coaches that have had him in the past. We put together a scenario, we brought it to Jeremy and explained to him what our thought process was and that he wasn’t going to break camp with the big league club right away, but you’re going to have to trust us and when you’re ready and if you’re ready and if you’re [one] of the best five starters, that you’re going to be the guy and help us win, and that was a big part of him choosing us over other teams. He had a lot of interest in teams that weren’t really playoff contenders, and he wanted to play on a winner, and took a minor league deal from us rather than a big league deal from some other teams.”
Hellickson took another one-year deal this time aorund, and with the questions surrounding the other starters at the back end, (with Ross in his first full year back following Tommy John, and Fedde still trying to establish himself), the veteran in the mix has a good shot at slotting in as the fifth starter come Opening Day.