Jeremy Hellickson went (4-0) with a 0.95 ERA, six walks, 19 strikeouts, and a .217 BAA in five starts and 19 innings in Grapefruit League action this Spring, but the Washington Nationals didn’t need a fifth starter early, so he had made just one relief appearance between the final start in Spring Training on March 21st and last night’s outing in Citizens Bank Park.
Hellickson talked to MASN’s Alex Chappell in advance of his first start about the experience of being in the bullpen to start the season after starting in 216 of 223 career appearances in the majors before this season.
“I’ve had respect for those guys forever,” Hellickson said of the relief corps, “but actually being down there and seeing what they go through and trying to stay ready every single day is tough.”
His one outing before tonight was in relief, against the same Philadelphia Phillies he was up against in the series finale in CBP, and he said it was good to get on the mound before he’d have to start, though it was, in his words, “a little weird,” to come out of the ‘pen.
“Getting to face hitters against these guys in D.C. just felt a little weird,” the 32-year-old said, “... but just trying to keep the arm ready, and yeah, but it was definitely tough.”
Hellickson was going up against a lineup he knew well, however, after facing them last year and pitching for the Phillies in 2016-17.
“They take their walks,” Hellickson said.
“A lot of on-base guys, a lot of power all the way through, played with a few of those guys when I was with them, their top three hitters are now their 6-7-8 guys, so it’s a deep lineup, but, you know, I’ll be ready for them.”
Hellickson had a 3-0 lead before he took the mound, and a 7-0 lead after he had completed three scoreless, on 50 pitches, and it was up to 9-0 when he came out in the bottom of the fifth and worked his way out of a bases-loaded jam for five scoreless innings on 88 pitches overall.
A 22-pitch sixth ended his outing with the righty at 100 pitches even after six scoreless.
Jeremy Hellickson’s Line: 6.0 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 6 Ks, 100 P, 60 S, 8/1 GO/FO.
“He wanted to go back out for the sixth inning, and he pitched well,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez told reporters after what ended up a 15-1 win.
“A hundred pitches for him I thought was kind of much, but he wanted to go out there and continue.”
That pitch count was higher than Hellickson went in any of his 19 starts last season, but he was throwing well, and the Nationals were up big early and kept adding to their lead.
“Hellickson picked us up,” Martinez said.
“He gave us six good innings which we really needed and he pitched really well.”
“When you have a lead like that,” Hellickson told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman, “you just want to stay out there as long as you can and save those guys.
“I felt really good.”
What was working for Hellickson?
“He kept the ball down,” Martinez said. “He really did.
“He made some good pitches. He mixed his pitches up really well today, and he was attacking the strike zone.”