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Hellickson joins Nats, jumps into 5th starter race

Martinez experimenting with pitchers batting eighth; Adams scratched as precaution
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The days until Opening Day are quickly dwindling, so new Nationals right-hander Jeremy Hellickson wasted no time getting started at camp. He took a red-eye flight from California to arrive in West Palm Beach on Saturday morning.

Then, shortly after the Nationals officially announced he had signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League Spring Training, Hellickson threw a version of a simulated game in the bullpen. He threw four innings and about 60 pitches to complete his first workout with the team and remain on the same schedule he had been during the offseason.

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The days until Opening Day are quickly dwindling, so new Nationals right-hander Jeremy Hellickson wasted no time getting started at camp. He took a red-eye flight from California to arrive in West Palm Beach on Saturday morning.

Then, shortly after the Nationals officially announced he had signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League Spring Training, Hellickson threw a version of a simulated game in the bullpen. He threw four innings and about 60 pitches to complete his first workout with the team and remain on the same schedule he had been during the offseason.

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Hellickson had been throwing on his normal once-every-five-day schedule in California at a camp set up by his agent, Scott Boras, to keep players who remain unsigned in shape. He has even faced opposing hitters. Because of this regular work, Hellickson does not feel like he will have to catch up too much to match the rest of the pitchers.

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"I feel like I'm ready," he said. "It's up to [the Nats] obviously, but I definitely feel ready."

The Nationals plan on having Hellickson throw another bullpen session before he makes his first Grapefruit League appearance, and manager Dave Martinez hinted Hellickson could make his debut in one of the team's split-squad games on Friday. 

Hellickson enters an ongoing competition to be the club's fifth starter, one that had been led by right-hander A.J. Cole, but also includes top prospect Erick Fedde and veterans Edwin Jackson and Tommy Milone.

"I've known Hellickson for a long time," Martinez, who was the bench coach at Tampa Bay when Hellickson played on the Rays. "He's a great kid. [He] competes. ... We're excited to have him. It gives us depth. We just got to get him stretched out now and see where he's at."

Hellickson said he was given no assurances upon signing with the Nationals, but it was a good opportunity he could not pass up.

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"I really haven't been on a team that's been expected to win preseason in four or five years," Hellickson said. "So it's exciting to get in here and see the guys in here and meet my teammates finally. I can't wait. It's going to be a fun year."

Hellickson also laughed as he pointed out that four of his first eight starts last season came against the Nationals, so he was happy he would get to avoid facing this lineup for now.

Whether Hellickson represents an upgrade over the Nats' current options, however, is not certain. He posted a 5.43 ERA last season in 30 starts between the Phillies and Orioles, a drastic rise from his 3.71 ERA in 2016.

Video: BAL@LAA: Hellickson fans nine over six-plus frames

"I put a little too much pressure on myself," Hellickson said. "Then things would start going bad and I'd put more pressure on myself and it would get worse. That's really it. I felt great. I thought my stuff was just as good as '16. I just didn't make as many quality pitches.

Pitcher batting eighth?
The Nationals posted easily their most intriguing lineup of the spring for Saturday's game against the Mets, not only because it featured Adam Eaton's Grapefruit League debut and Michael A. Taylor's return to spring action, but because Bryce Harper was leading off and the starter, Tanner Roark, was hitting eighth with Wilmer Difo ninth.

However, manager Dave Martinez said he would not read much into Harper leading off. It's the third consecutive game for Harper, Martinez said he wanted to get Harper some at-bats early before he takes him out of the game. Plus he did not want to have Eaton lead off in his first Grapefruit League game to take some of the pressure away from him.

"I didn't want to stick him in the leadoff spot thinking he had to run or anything like that," Martinez said. "I just wanted him to go out there and play the game."

A possibility Martinez was open to in the regular season, however, was the pitcher batting eighth. And while he did not say it would become a regular occurrence, he wanted to get a look at it Saturday.

"Based on the information we get, we might try it," Martinez said. "It's not going to be a habit, but we might try it."

Adams scratched
Matt Adams was a late scratch from Saturday's lineup with left leg cramps. He was scheduled to play first base and bat cleanup. The Nationals said the move was strictly precautionary.

Up next
Cole will take the mound looking to continue his case for being the team's fifth starter when the Nationals face the Cardinals on Sunday at 1:05 p.m. ET in Jupiter, Fla. Watch the game live on MLB.TV.

Jamal Collier has covered the Nationals for MLB.com since 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

Washington Nationals, Jeremy Hellickson