Will Hellickson start Monday in New York? (Nats lose 6-5)

The Nationals have not yet named a starter for Monday night’s series opener against the Mets. That in itself offers a hint that the club is preparing to add veteran Jeremy Hellickson to its big league roster and send him to the mound at Citi Field.

A.J.-Cole-throwing-gray-sidebar.jpgA.J. Cole is on turn to make the start, but the right-hander (who was roughed up in his season debut before improving in his second outing) has been spotted in the Nationals bullpen several times this weekend.

Hellickson, meanwhile, was initially supposed to make a start at extended spring training in West Palm Beach earlier this week, but instead threw two side sessions in the bullpen, the latter of which put him on schedule to start Monday.

The Nationals are expected to make an announcement following today’s game. Because rain has been in the forecast, they also wanted to make sure Stephen Strasburg actually pitched before naming Monday’s starter (in case the right-hander could simply be pushed back).

The Nationals signed Hellickson to a minor league contract on March 17, then had the 30-year-old begin to build his arm up through the final week of spring training and into extended spring training. He has already surpassed 90 pitches in a start and has informed club officials he feels ready to join the major league roster.

If Hellickson is promoted, the Nationals are likely to move Cole (who is out of minor league options) to the bullpen and have him serve as a long reliever. They would then either demote another reliever (possibly Trevor Gott, who does have an option) or carry an eight-man bullpen and send down a bench player. The club also would need to remove someone from its 40-man roster to clear a spot for Hellickson, who stands to earn a $2 million base salary with up to $4 million in incentives once he’s in the major leagues.

Hellickson has the right to opt out of his deal if he’s not called up by May 1.

Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark are scheduled to start the final two games of this week’s series in New York. The first-place Mets are scheduled to pitch Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz in the series.

Update: On a cold, blustery, wet afternoon, offense is at a premium. Bryce Harper and Charlie Blackmon have the physical ability to drive a ball through the wind and find the bleachers, as each did early on, but few else do. So the Nats had to get a little creative to score two more runs in the bottom of the fifth. They loaded the bases via three walks. Then with Ryan Zimmerman at the plate in a big spot ... the Nationals scored two runs on a pitch that got away from catcher Chris Iannetta. Michael A. Taylor scored the first run, then Trea Turner followed him after Iannetta’s toss back to reliever Antonio Senzatella was wild. Officially, it’s a passed ball and a throwing error on Iannetta. Whatever the case, the Nats lead 3-1 heading to the sixth.

Update II: Well, that lead didn’t hold up for long. In fact, the Nats trailed 4-3 after a mess of a top of the sixth. Until they re-tied the game in the bottom of the sixth. What happened? Well, with two outs and runners on the corners in the top of the inning, Blackmon sneaked a grounder down the first base line. That ensured one run, but with Harper shaded well into right-center, the trailing runner was able to score from first without drawing a throw. Then moments later Carlos Gonzalez sent a ground ball directly through the hole at shortstop made vacant by the shift to put the Rockies up 4-3. No worries, though, because Matt Wieters crushed his second homer in as many days in the bottom of the sixth to tie things up again.

Update III: The game is tied no longer. D.J. LeMahieu homered off Shawn Kelley in the top of the eighth. And so now the Nats need to rally again, down 5-4 with six outs to go.

Update IV: The Nats tied the game in the bottom of the eighth when Taylor doubled with two down, stole third and scored on a wild pitch from Adam Ottavino. But Ian Desmond’s homer off Sean Doolittle in the top of the ninth restored the Rockies’ one-run lead. It’s 6-5 Rockies heading to the bottom of the ninth.

Update V: It’s a final: Rockies 6, Nationals 5.

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