WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Jeremy Hellickson will start the season in the bullpen, Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Sunday afternoon, as the team plans to start the year with a four-man rotation.
The frequency of off-days at the start of the season gives the Nats a chance to use their top four starters on normal rest through the first two turns of the rotation. Hellickson will remain in the bullpen as a long reliever likely until a three-game series against the Phillies from April 8-10, where Washington will first need a fifth starter.
It lines up Max Scherzer to potentially start three times in the Nationals' first nine games, all of which will come against division opponents in the National League East: Opening Day against the Mets, April 3 against Bryce Harper and the Phillies at Nationals Park and again on April 8 in Philadelphia. Hellickson is likely to make his first start in one of the next two games against the Phillies.
“In reality, to me, with all the days off, he really only misses a start,” Martinez said. “… He’ll be like a long man. He’s had a really good Spring Training. His stuff is really good.”
Hellickson gives the Nationals an extra arm in the bullpen to start the season, but Martinez acknowledged that the club is debating whether to keep an additional arm in the bullpen with their final roster spot. Andrew Stevenson seems almost certain to claim one bench spot in place of the injured Michael A. Taylor, but Howie Kendrick’s spot is up for grabs. The Nats can keep two of the following four players still remaining in camp: Right-handers Wander Suero and Austen Williams and infielders Adrian Sanchez and Jake Noll.
"The question is, with all the days off, what are our needs?” Martinez said. “So we’re still kind of toying around with different options.”
Kendrick to remain in West Palm Beach
Kendrick will continue rehabbing at the Nats' complex in West Palm Beach after the team wraps up the Grapefruit League on Sunday afternoon, as he continues to make progress in his return from a left hamstring strain. Kendrick has hit in the cage, taken ground balls and done some light running, but he has not been able to run 100 percent without any restrictions.
He is confident with his progress, and although he thinks he is close, he knows his legs are not completely ready just yet. Once they are, he should be ready to get into game action, even if it’s on the Minor League side.
“I think the biggest thing is trying to feel great and free,” Kendrick said. “I'm really confident about where I’m at and trusting it a lot more. I trust it now, but I know I’m not 100 percent. So there’s no point for me to try to be there for Opening Day, when I know I could risk injuring myself again. I don’t think that’s a good thing for me or the team. When I come back, I want to be back, so I can do my best to help us win ballgames and be a part of the team.”
The Nats have one final tuneup before the regular season begins, an exhibition game at Nationals Park on Monday against the Yankees with first pitch scheduled for 5:05 p.m. ET. Anibal Sanchez will take the mound for Washington in his final warmup before his regular season debut on April 2 against the Phillies.