Hellickson wants to start, but Nats may not have room (up 5-1)

PHILADELPHIA - Jeremy Hellickson is off the disabled list and back on the Nationals pitching staff. How the veteran right-hander fits into that pitching staff over the season’s final 2 1/2 weeks remains undecided.

Hellickson, who hasn’t pitched since Aug. 15 due to a sprained right wrist, was activated today and is willing to be available out of the bullpen for tonight’s series finale against the Phillies if needed.

But beyond that, the 31-year-old made it clear he believes he deserves to rejoin the starting rotation, not pitch out of the bullpen.

Hellickson-Gray-v-PIT-sidebar.jpg“No, that’s not something I want to do,” he said. “I want to start. I want to get a few more starts in. I’m a starter. I’ve never come out of the bullpen. I feel, especially (since) we’ve got a lot of guys down there already. Like I said, I’m a starter. So I don’t think that’s really something that I want to do. I’d love to get a few more starts.”

Hellickson has made 18 starts this season, tied with Stephen Strasburg for fourth-most on the Nationals pitching staff. And he has been effective, posting a 3.57 ERA and 1.075 WHIP.

But in the four weeks since he last pitched, the Nats have seen Strasburg, Joe Ross and Erick Fedde all return from their own stints on the disabled list and assume three of the five rotation slots. Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark have held the two other slots all season and aren’t about to relinquish those.

So this leaves manager Davey Martinez in an awkward situation, wanting to reward Hellickson for the job he did prior to his injury but also fully aware he needs to see as much of Ross and Fedde as possible down the stretch as the organization evaluates both young right-handers for 2019 and beyond.

“Fact of the matter is, we’ve got a lot of guys right now who are doing well,” Martinez said. “And (Hellickson) understands that, too. He got hurt, so he’s going to work his way back.”

Hellickson originally was due to pitch a simulated game today, but the combination of Tuesday’s doubleheader and his own insistence he’s good to go convinced the Nationals to activate him now.

“I’m ready,” he said. “I threw the 50-pitch sim game in D.C. I don’t know the most pitches I’ve thrown this year, but I feel like I’m ready to go out there and throw 75-90 pitches, no problem.”

The Nationals haven’t announced any rotation plans beyond the next two days. Ross will start Thursday’s makeup game against the Cubs in Washington, and Scherzer will start Friday night’s series opener in Atlanta.

“And then Saturday will be up in the air,” Martinez said.

Update: Facing Aaron Nola for the fifth time this season and the third time in the last three weeks, the Nationals jumped on the Phillies ace like never before. They scored three runs in the top of the first, with Bryce Harper providing the big blow: a two-run homer way over the center field fence and into the bench at the back of the Philadelphia bullpen. It was Harper’s 33rd home run of the season, and it raised his RBI total to 94 (five shy of his career high). Anthony Rendon followed that with a double off the wall, and Ryan Zimmerman drove him home with a two-out single to center, giving the Nationals a 3-0 lead off a Cy Young contender.

Update II: Make it 4-0 on a solo blast by Zimmerman in the top of the fourth. Zimmerman sent his ball flying to center field, just beyond Odubel Herrera’s leaping attempt. It’s Zimmerman’s 13th homer of the season, and it has the Nats up four runs. Strasburg, meanwhile, has scattered three hits over four scoreless innings, cruising along on 52 pitches.

Update III: Someone finally got to Strasburg. J.P. Crawford sent a 3-1 fastball deep to right to lead off the bottom of the fifth and get the Phillies on the board. The Nats’ lead is down to 4-1, but the bigger news is that Gabe Kapler pinch-hit for Nola in the bottom of the fifth. So now the Nationals get to take their cracks not at a Cy Young contender but a shaky Philly bullpen.

Update IV: If you haven’t heard yet, Juan Soto is pretty good. No, make that extremely good. He just sent a home run into the second deck in right field on a 1-2 pitch from lefty Austin Davis. It’s his third homer in the series, his 19th of the season. And it has the Nats up 5-1.

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