SAN DIEGO -- After being taken out of his two most recent outings in the sixth inning despite throwing just 57 and 61 pitches, Nationals right-hander Jeremy Hellickson craved the opportunity to pitch deeper into games. After taking a perfect game into the seventh during Tuesday night's 4-0 victory over
SAN DIEGO -- After being taken out of his two most recent outings in the sixth inning despite throwing just 57 and 61 pitches, Nationals right-hander Jeremy Hellickson craved the opportunity to pitch deeper into games. After taking a perfect game into the seventh during Tuesday night's 4-0 victory over the Padres at Petco Park, perhaps he will get that chance more frequently.
Hellickson retired the first 18 Padres he faced, before Travis Jankowski led off the seven with a single. Hellickson retired two more batters before a single by Franchy Cordero ended his gem.
In his longest and best outing of the season, Hellickson struck out eight and surrendered two hits and no walks in 6 2/3 innings. His performance helped the Nationals continue rolling, as they have won nine of their past 10 games.
"Everybody says they don't think about it, but once you get to the fifth, sixth inning, you can't help but think about it," Hellickson said. "But once you get on the mound, you kind of forget about it and just try to do what you've been doing up to that point."
Washington has been reluctant for Hellickson to pitch deep into games due to his late arrival to Spring Training after signing in March and because he has struggled in his career when facing batters a third time. He did not hide his displeasure after being removed from his two most recent outings, and he had a meeting with manager Dave Martinez following his last start. Hellickson left the meeting telling Martinez that he would figure it out and find ways to last deeper into his start.
"We have to make sure we take care of you," Martinez recalled telling Hellickson. "Don't read into this whole third time around the order. I know you can pitch. I've seen you pitch. I've seen you pitch into the seventh. You're going to be fine."
Hellickson responded Tuesday night, filling up the strike zone with fastballs, spotting his changeup on the corners and generating swings and misses with a sharp 12-to-6 curveball. He was efficient through it all, exiting with a pitch count of 91.
Matt Adams, starting for the first time this season against a left-hander, continued to swing a hot bat with an RBI double in the fifth inning against San Diego's Clayton Richard. The Nats took a 2-0 lead when Adams scored on an ensuing single from Pedro Severino.
In the seventh, Hellickson contributed with his bat and collected an RBI double, and Andrew Stevenson's sac fly in the ninth rounded out the scoring.
Suddenly, Hellickson has provided some stability in the fifth spot of the Nationals' rotation, one that was left in flux at the start of the season. The right-hander owns a 2.28 ERA after five starts with Washington.
"I don't really feel like I have something to prove," he said. "But just with the way the offseason went, it's just kind of a new motivation for me. And then playing with this team, it's all worth it. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing and just keep it going."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Madson escapes jam: Hellickson left the game with runners at second and third and the tying run at the plate in the seventh inning. Martinez summoned right-hander Ryan Madson, and he escaped the jam by forcing Jose Pirela to ground out to shortstop, preserving the Nats' advantage.
"It's a high-leverage situation," Martinez said. "I told him, 'Hey, get that one out,' and he was great. … I have all the confidence in the world in him."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Bryce Harper went 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts and is hitless in his past 19 at-bats. He has seen more pitches to hit since moving to the leadoff spot but is still slumping, batting .181 (6-for-33) in eight games at the top of the lineup.
"He's hit the ball incredibly hard over the last few days, he really has," Martinez said. "I talked to him after the game. He's good. He feels fine. I told him tomorrow's a different day. Keep squaring balls up, they're not going to catch them all."
The Nationals will wrap up a three-game series with the Padres with a battle of southpaws at 9:10 p.m. ET on Wednesday at Petco Park. Giovany Gonzalez has given up one earned run in his past 12 innings to lower his ERA to 2.33. Washington will get its first look at San Diego rookie Joey Lucchesi, and it will be worth watching whether Adams gets another start vs. a lefty.
Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.