- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 24, 2018

Jeremy Hellickson struggled in his rehab start with the Potomac Nationals on Sunday, allowing nine hits and 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings as the 31-year-old starter works back from a hamstring injury.

Manager Dave Martinez expects both Hellickson and reliever Brandon Kintzler, who retired the Wilmington Blue Rocks in order in the sixth in his rehab assignment, to arrive in D.C. before the Nationals leave for Tampa Bay for a two-game series against the Rays on Monday and Tuesday.

Martinez had hoped Kintzler would be able to travel with the team, but the first-year skipper will wait to judge either player until he can see them. If both are healthy, they would represent the return of a full-strength pitching staff, one that the Nationals need as they sit in third place in the National League East Division, the latest they’ve occupied that spot since 2013.

“They’re coming back here, so waiting to hear from them, see how Hellickson felt,” Martinez said. “And then Kintzler actually felt really good, so we’re gonna wait for them to come back and talk to them and see what their thoughts are.”

Hellickson has been kept on a short leash with the Nationals so far, working into the seventh inning just once in his nine appearances in Washington. Historically, Hellickson struggles the third time through an opposing order. In Potomac on Sunday, a grand slam in the third inning reminded of those difficulties prematurely. And it got worse: He was tagged for five runs on his second round through the order.

But so long as Hellickson felt healthy, Martinez said he wasn’t concerned about the result.

“I’m more concerned about the way he feels,” Martinez said. “We’ll go from there.”

With a solid start from Erick Fedde on Saturday, there may be less rush for Hellickson to return to Washington’s rotation. Fedde located all five pitches in the zone and completed a season-high six innings. He allowed three runs, two walks and struck out three, displaying the progression he’s made since his major league debut last season.

In three starts in 2017, he didn’t allow fewer than four runs. Fedde, Washington’s first-round selection in the 2014 MLB draft, hasn’t allowed more than four runs in four starts this year.

“You guys are watching it as well. He’s been getting better and better every single time,” catcher Spencer Kieboom said. “Couldn’t be more proud of him. He mixed all five pitches, you know, sliders, curveballs, changeups, cutters in and fastballs.”

The potential return of Stephen Strasburg could also help the Nationals, who are relying on two rookies in place of injuries to Strasburg and Hellickson while Tanner Roark also scuffles of late. In Roark’s last two starts, he lasted 4 innings and 4 ⅓ innings, respectively, while surrendering a combined 10 runs.

Strasburg was placed on the disabled list June 9 with shoulder inflammation, but he has resumed baseball activities.

“He is progressing. He’s doing well,” Martinez said. “He’ll keep doing his throwing progression and we’ll figure out when he can actually throw from the mound.”

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