Nationals righty Jeremy Hellickson has been sidelined since mid May due to a shoulder strain, and it doesn’t appear as though he’ll be returning in the near future. Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com tweeted today that the Nats have shut Hellickson down from throwing due to ongoing soreness in his problematic right shoulder. He’d been on a long-toss program.
Hellickson, 32, was a nice pickup for the Nats on a minor league deal in 2018 when he gave them 91 1/3 innings of 3.45 ERA ball with a 65-to-20 K/BB ratio through 19 starts. That prompted the Nats and Hellickson to reunite on a one-year pact back in February — a deal that promised the former AL Rookie of the Year a modest $1.3MM salary (plus additional incentive opportunities). He’s already picked up $600K worth of incentives, securing $200K bonuses for his third, fifth and seventh starts of the season.
The 2019 season has been an entirely different story for Hellickson, who hit the injured list back on May 19 after seeing his ERA rise to 6.23. After allowing just 11 homers in 91 1/3 frames last year, he’s already served up nine long balls. Hellickson’s average fastball is down from 89.7 mph to 88.5 mph, and he’s seen his BB/9 mark spike from 1.97 a year ago to 4.62 in 2019.
Hellickson was one of three starting pitchers signed to Major League deals this winter, and while it’s hard to overstate Patrick Corbin’s early excellence in the first season of his $140MM contract, the team’s investments in Hellickson and Anibal Sanchez haven’t paid dividends yet. A disastrous bullpen has been the main culprit in Washington’s shockingly poor start to the season, but the tough outings at the back of the rotation have been a significant factor in the Nats’ 23-32 record as well.
With Hellickson out for a yet-to-be-determined period, the Nationals will likely look to Erick Fedde in the fifth spot of the rotation. Based on the pair’s 2019 output, it’s an upgrade for the Nationals. Fedde has a 2.25 ERA with a 27-to-5 K/BB ratio in 24 2/3 innings of Triple-A ball so far and has also given the Nats 20 2/3 frames with a 2.18 ERA in the big leagues. His 12-to-8 K/BB ratio and a pair of hit batsmen create some cause for concern with regard to Fedde’s MLB showing, but the former first-round pick and top prospect certainly at least merits a look.