Hellickson progresses to throwing curveballs (plus other notes)

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson threw another bullpen session Saturday afternoon, this time integrating his curveball for the first time since going on the disabled list with a right wrist sprain.

“Felt good,” he said. “Threw about 45, 60 (pitches). I threw some curveballs. It felt fine.”

Hellickson said after a 30-pitch bullpen Wednesday in Philadelphia that he has shied away from throwing curveballs off the mound because it still hurt to throw the pitch. But he’s been throwing a few outside of bullpen sessions and was happy to be able to use the pitch in today’s workout.

“He threw a couple,” manager Davey Martinez said. “Fastball was coming out pretty good. He was able to stay out there a little longer. The other day, he was fatigued. Today he threw a little longer and his changeup was pretty good.”

Hellickson said he was unsure of what his next step in his recovery would be, but Martinez said that he would need to throw another bullpen session in a couple of days, providing he felt no ill effects tomorrow.

“He’s getting close,” Martinez said. “He’ll probably end up throwing another bullpen in a couple days.”

Thumbnail image for Hellickson injured.jpgTaking baby steps is wearing on Hellickson, who has never worked through a wrist problem before and sees the season entering its final month. He hasn’t pitched since going on the DL on Aug. 15, when he injured his wrist breaking his fall in a collision on a play at the plate in Atlanta.

“It sucks,” he said. “You want to be out there, but at the same time, you don’t want to make an injury worse. Just got to take it slow and listen to my body. Just not try to rush it, but get back out there as soon as I can.”

* Catcher Matt Wieters continues to experience some problems with the hip/groin issue that forced him to exit Wednesday’s game early. That’s one reason the Nationals recalled catcher Pedro Severino from Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday, the first day rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players.

* While Severino has ridden the shuttle between Syracuse and D.C. over the past couple of years, right-hander Austen Williams is in the major leagues for the first time after the Nationals selected his contract on Saturday.

Williams, 25, transitioned from full-time starter to reliever this season and prospered. He went 3-3 with a 1.19 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 33 games (including two starts) between Double-A Harrisburg and Syracuse. He walked 17 and struck out 89.

Triple-A skipper Randy Knorr gave Martinez a glowing report on Saturday.

“I heard he’s been pitching really well,” Martinez said. “I talked to Randy today and he says his fastball is up to 96 (mph) sometimes. Can throw multiple innings, has a very good curveball. ... He’s done well, so this is well deserved.”

Williams, mainly a fastball/slider pitcher, got the news of his recall Friday after the Chiefs’ 7-4 win over Buffalo. But it came in a roundabout way: the squad’s trainer claiming to need to talk to him about an offseason program, a conversation that eventually led him to Knorr’s office and word of his promotion.

“First reaction? I think I put ... my face in my hands,” he said Saturday afternoon. “I don’t know. Surreal. Something I’ve dreamt about for a long time. It’s awesome.”

Williams embraced the move from starter to reliever because he felt it better fit the best pitches in his repertoire.

“I think transitioning to the bullpen fits my style better - to be able to focus on two pitches, which has been fastball, slider,” he said. “I think I’ve had a velocity spike, too, which has helped. Figuring out some things over the years and kind of put it together.”

The change in roles hastened his path to the major leagues.

“You try to find what you’re good at, and I think that was a good idea,” Williams said. “Obviously, it served to really help my career.”

Getting positive results this season made him think a shot at pitching for the Nats was a possibility, but it was something Williams tried to keep in perspective.

“I really didn’t want to make any assumptions, but I was doing well at Triple-A,” he said. “I did really well in Double-A before that and I thought if the stars aligned and it all worked out, maybe I had a shot.”

He got word early enough that his parents were able to fly from Fort Worth, Texas, to D.C., and his best friend was able to catch a flight from Denver.

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