The Nationals rotation has been nothing but dominant this season. It is leading the National League in just about every fathomable category, including innings pitched and pitches per start. Nats starters have been going deeper, staying in longer, and pitching more than anybody else. That is, except for Jeremy Hellickson.
Hellickson has been a blessing, and he's been the perfect fit for that fifth rotation spot. He is putting up fabulous numbers; so far this season, he has not given up more than three runs in a game (he's given up nine total runs over seven starts), he's not walking people (six total walks) and hits are stingy. His ERA is a mere 2.12.
However, he's not been allowed to go deep into games. As a result, he is only 1-0 in seven starts, while the Nats have a 5-2 record in games that he's started. His record should be way better, but he is not pitching enough innings to get the win, and the Nationals aren't getting timely hits in his starts to even give him the chance for the win.
Why is Hellickson being pulled? Well, it's certainly not the workload. In his starts, he has gone 4 2/3, 5 1/3, 5 1/3, 5 23, 6 2/3, five and 5 1/3 innings, throwing 88, 93, 57, 61, 91, 61, and 75 pitches. By all means, it looks like he should be able to go deeper in most of these starts. And he isn't struggling, either. He's given up three runs once, two runs twice, one run twice and no runs twice.
The knock on Hellickson is that he has historically had trouble with lineups the third time through the order. Opposing batting average goes up significantly, and typically it hasn't gone well for him. Thus, keeping those numbers in mind, Davey Martinez has not really let him stay in the game third time through the order. That was fine at the beginning of the year, when we were just starting to see what he could do and how he would perform. To my eyes, Hellickson has soared beyond expectations. And I think he has more than earned his right to stay in games and pitch deeper and tackle that order third time through.
Martinez is going by the numbers, and that's OK when you don't really know what he's got. But now you've watched him pitch seven times, and the results have been stellar. And yet, Martinez has been reluctant to let him stay in. I get that you don't know what's going to happen and you're afraid he might blow up. But you won't know until you give him that chance. Hellickson has earned at least a chance. If his next start takes the same pattern as his other ones (few runs, low pitch count), then let him stay in the game. Let him show you what he's got. If history repeats itself and he doesn't do well late in the game, then fine, at least you tried. But this season, he has given you no reason not to trust him. He could be amazing, and how silly would you feel getting 5 innings out of Hellickson all this time when you could have gotten 7 or more? The man threw 6 perfect innings against the Padres a few weeks ago. He has earned the right to pitch deeper, and Martinez needs to give him a little more trust and give him that chance.
The bullpen is still badly hurt and finding its way, and more innings rom a starter can't hurt. Albeit, a blister derailed Hellickson's start yesterday (a start in which he might have been given that longer leash) and might get in the way of future plans. But if his health is in good shape, Martinez needs to let him go deeper next start. He's earned it.
Liz Barr blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog. Follow her on Twitter: @RaiseTheBarr1. Her opinions on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com's initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.