Then the Nats rallied to make a game of it, but were unable to take that final step, and fell 6-5 to the Chicago Cubs in the series finale.
Hellickson walked the first three batters he faced and struggled to get into a groove. The Cubs scored a run against him in each of his three innings, highlighted by Anthony Rizzo’s homer and hits from Jason Heyward and Albert Almora Jr., plus a sacrifice fly for Kyle Schwarber.
Hellickson lasted only three innings, allowing three runs on four hits with three walks, one strikeout and one hit batter. He threw 64 pitches, only 30 for strikes.
The right-hander walked Schwarber, Kris Bryant and Rizzo to begin the game. He managed to only allow a run in the first, but the Cubs kept pecking away, tallying two runs on four hits the next two frames. Hellickson says he has not felt right for a bit, and believes it’s a mechanical issue.
“Fastball command wasn’t too good,” Hellickson said. “Just kind of fighting myself right now. Mechanics are a little off. Just missing. Just got to get back to who I am, getting ahead and attacking, being way more efficient than I am right now.”
Nationals manager Davey Martinez is also trying to figure out what is wrong with Hellickson (2-3). He knew it was rare to see Hellickson struggle this much this early in a game, giving up three walks and a hit batter in four of his first five batters faced.
“I don’t know,” said Martinez. “He’s a guy that throws strikes, and when he falls behind and falls behind, that’s an indication to me that he’s not right.
“It’s tough. I’ve known Hellie for a long time. He’ll battle through some stuff, but when he’s missing like that, that’s tough. I don’t know if it’s going to get any better throughout the game, but we couldn’t afford to let the game get out of hand.”
Chicago led 6-1 in the sixth before the Nats started their comeback. After Hendricks recorded the first out, the Nats had four straight batters reach. Trea Turner walked, Adam Eaton singled and Anthony Rendon blasted a three-run homer, his eighth of the season, to cut the Cubs’ advantage down to 6-4. Juan Soto doubled and Gerardo Parra singled before Hendricks was finally pulled.
Turner walked and scored a run in his third at-bat versus Hendricks, after starting 0-for-2. Turner said the Nats tried to wear down the 6-foot-3, 190-pound right-hander in the comeback attempt that came up short.
“Just getting people on base,” Turner said. “With him, it’s about you try to get his pitch count up. You try to hit the strikes that he throws. He’s an interesting pitcher because he can throw an 80-pitch complete game if you don’t get on base. So for me, we just had to get some people on base. I think things started rolling from there.
In his season debut, Kyle McGowin relieved Hellickson, going three innings, and allowing three runs (two earned) on three hits with one walk and three strikeouts.
Howie Kendrick drilled a solo shot to lead off the seventh against former Nats reliever Brandon Kintzler. Eaton and Parra had singles later, but the Nats could not get a runner to second base for a chance to tie the game.
Steve Cishek ended up recording seven outs for the save, including a quick 1-2-3 ninth against Kendrick, Victor Robles and Turner.
“For me its guys like that with the funk, you don’t see them very often,” Turner said. “You see them one time and it’s a high leverage situation, it’s kind of do or die a little bit so it’s hard to ... by the time you see the ball I guess it takes a pitch or two. OK, I can see where he’s throwing it from and you might’ve missed the pitch you were supposed to hit. For me with those guys with funk you got to try to see the ball as early as possible and get a good pitch to hit.”
The Nats finish the homestand 3-3 but lose the series to the Cubs. They have gone 5-5 in their last 10 games and head to New York to begin a four-game set against the Mets Monday night.
“We are playing well,” Martinez said. “Our lineup is starting to lengthen a little bit. The boys are playing hard, they really are. I see signs. We got Suero pitching well. Doo (Sean Doolittle) is Doo. We got to get Barraclough back in there. He got outs today, which is good. Grace got a big out today against Rizzo. So that’s good, so we just got to keep going. This is far from over, and they know that and they’re going to keep playing hard.”