WASHINGTON -- The Nationals signed free-agent starter Jeremy Hellickson to a one-year deal on Friday. The move improves Washington's pitching depth less than a week before pitchers and catchers report to West Palm Beach, Fla.
Hellickson will earn $1.3 million in 2019, with up to $4 million in incentives. One year ago, Hellickson found himself unable to secure a Major League deal and had to settle for a Minor League one with Washington near the end of spring, but he performed well for the Nats in 19 starts and earned a guaranteed contract this season.
To make room for Hellickson on the 40-man roster, Trevor Gott was designated for assignment.
It is unclear whether Hellickson will slide back into his role as the team's fifth starter or simply be given a chance to compete for the job. Joe Ross had been the leading candidate to begin the season in the fifth spot, with Erick Fedde and Henderson Alvarez also in the mix. The Nats are likely to hold an open competition for the role during the spring, and Hellickson will enter camp as the favorite.
Hellickson, who will turn 32 in April, took over as the team's fifth starter by the end of April and posted a 3.45 ERA in 91 1/3 innings. His season was interrupted by two injuries, a right hamstring strain and a right wrist sprain that required time on the disabled list.
But the Nationals got the most out of Hellickson when he did take the mound by limiting his exposure to opposing lineups. He pitched into the seventh inning just once in 2018, when he carried a perfect game into that frame against the Padres, and he rarely was permitted to face an opposing lineup for a third time.
Against Hellickson, opposing hitters posted a .537 OPS in 151 at-bats the first time through the order, a .658 OPS in 145 at-bats the second time through and a 1.221 OPS in 43 at-bats the third time through, a small sample but a telling one.
Adding Hellickson gives the Nationals some options at the back end of the rotation, which they lacked before this signing. Ross is coming off Tommy John surgery and is no guarantee to return to his form from 2016. Fedde has been injured and inconsistent during his short stint in the Majors. Alvarez and Vidal Nuño both enter camp as unknowns.
The revamped Nationals rotation is poised to be one of the best in the National League, and by signing Hellickson, the Nats helped make sure they have the depth to hold up through an entire season.