Hellickson progressing, will he start Monday in New York?

Manager Davey Martinez gave an update on Jeremy Hellickson’s progress in extended spring training, saying the veteran right-hander is getting very close to being ready.

“He threw a side actually (on Wednesday),” Martinez said. “I guess he threw well. Now we’ll just have to wait and see. He’s getting to the point now where he feels like he’s ready. I know he’s got another side coming up so we’ll see where we’re at.”

The Nats current fifth starter, right-hander A.J. Cole, made a vast improvement from his first start to his second start of this young season.

Several baseball gurus believe Hellickson will get his shot to start for the Nationals if Cole falters.

cole-spring-nats-sidebar.jpgIn his first start April 3 at Atlanta, Cole struggled to finish four innings, allowing 10 runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings, with three walks and four strikeouts. He gave up home runs to Preston Tucker (three-run shot) and Freddie Freeman (three-run shot), totaling eight runs allowed in the first two innings. The two mammoth homers came within five batters of each other.

In his second start April 11 in D.C. also against the Braves, Cole fared much better, surrendering only two runs on three hits in 5 1/3 innings. Atlanta hit a pair of solo homers this time by Ozzie Albies and Kurt Suzuki.

Manager Davey Martinez said he puts more stock in that second outing:

“For me, being it was his first outing of the year, the first one. I tend not to really... you know because your emotions are flying everywhere. You’re excited. The last outing was pretty much what I expected from A.J. He did really well. He really did. I liked what I saw.”

Cole’s next turn in the rotation will be Monday night as the Nationals open their biggest series of April against the first-place Mets in Flushing, N.Y. at Citi Field.

Would the Nats make the decision at that point to place the veteran Hellickson in that spot or do they have the confidence that Cole can deliver in that critical spot?

“We haven’t made that decision yet,” Martinez said. “A.J. pitched well, but we haven’t made any decisions yet.”

The Nationals almost have to put Cole out there Monday or put him in the bullpen, because if you don’t give him the ball there you could shatter his confidence for a long time, perhaps the rest of his career.

Cole has yet to prove he can be a consistent No. 5 starter. Last season he was able to get his ERA down to 3.81 after a couple of plus 5.00 ERA seasons with the Nats in 2015 and 2016.

But the Nats nurtured him for a long time - from 2010 to 2015 (2012 season in the A’s organization), they traded with Oakland again to get him back. This is where you see if he can come up big in an early season test against a hot Mets squad.

As managers and players say when they get off to an uneven start, the season is “a marathon not a sprint”. This is the spot where you see if Cole can run the 26.2 miles. I believe they should go back to Cole Monday.

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