Hellickson keeps Giants away from big inning for another win

Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is turning into one of the most consistent Nationals starters.

He did it again Wednesday in the Nats’ 9-6 win over the Giants. Hellickson (2-0) went 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits with four walks and no strikeouts. He had to throw only 79 pitches, 51 for strikes.

Hellickson-Throwing-White-Tongue-Out-Sidebar.jpgHellickson’s first two starts of the season have come seven days apart, but the 32-year-old now has allowed only two runs in 11 2/3 innings to drop his ERA to 2.63.

“Hellickson was really good again today,” said Nationals manager Davey Martinez. “He gave us six good innings.

“You know, for me, I’ve known Jeremy for a long time. I know that he is an unbelievable competitor. He’s very smart out there. He really is, and he knows how to get outs. He’s not worried about striking guys out. He’s just out there trying to get outs, and that’s what he does really well.”

And with all the craziness that arrived in the ninth inning when the Nats bullpen surrendered a pair of two-run homers in a rally that produced a whopping five hits, there’s a calmness to the festivities when Hellickson pitches. But the Giants hitters don’t feel that same peace.

“It feels awesome because he works quick, he throws strikes,” said Nats closer Sean Doolittle, who had to save the day again. “He has been really, really effective. He might not light up the gun the way Max (Scherzer) does, but he’s even varied his mechanics a little bit.”

That tempo switch - the quick pitch - was employed by Hellickson during this latest outing, and that forced Giants hitters into uncomfortable setups.

“I think I’m keeping them off balance,” Hellickson said of the strategy. “I didn’t throw a lot of strikes with it tonight. It took me until that last inning to kind of figure it out, but it’s keeping guys off balance. I’m able to throw all four pitches out of it, so it’s doing what it’s supposed to do right now.”

First baseman Matt Adams, who crushed a game-changing three-run shot, noticed Hellickson’s sped up delivery.

“It’s fun playing behind him. He works quick. He keeps opposing hitters off balance,” Adams said. “A couple times he will quick-pitch them and go into his slow, high leg kick, but he throws strikes. That’s a big part of it. He’s going out there pounding the zone and he is trusting his stuff.”

Hellickson said his start did not quite go as planned. He had to fight for the strike zone early on.

“I thought it was pretty good,” Hellickson said of his outing. “Command was a little shaky there for a couple batters, but made pitches when I needed to and defense was really good tonight.”

The Nats offense allowed the veteran a little bit of wiggle room early too, scoring three runs in the first inning and then another marker in the second frame. A 4-0 lead was all Hellickson needed to go to work. But he said that didn’t change his focus on the next hitter.

“For me, I just try to go out and do the same thing I do if it’s 0-0,” Hellickson said. “But it was nice to jump out 3-oh there in the first. You can tack a little bit more, but I don’t really change my game plan too much.”

The Nats defense was up to the challenge of protecting the advantage too. Center fielder Victor Robles was able to gun down a runner with a great throw to third baseman Anthony Rendon that erased a scoring chance for San Francisco. Juan Soto made a lunging play for a catch in left field to end an inning. And, of course, Rendon stopped another hot shot later on at third base.

“It was incredible,” Hellickson said. “I don’t know what the velo was, but it had to be up there. 96 mph? That’s pretty good. That play, Soto’s play in left with two outs, Tony’s diving play, a lot of good plays tonight.”

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