Jeremy Hellickson may be making his last start for a while when he gets the ball for the Nats on Saturday. (Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

ATLANTA — Earlier this week, when the Nationals activated him from the disabled list, Jeremy Hellickson made his feelings clear. He will pitch out of the bullpen in desperate circumstances, but he wants to start.

“I’m a starter,” he said, and nothing about the 3.57 ERA he accumulated over 18 starts this year suggested otherwise. The problem, of course, is numbers. With Joe Ross and Erick Fedde healthy, the Nationals have a full five-man rotation — and two young pitchers who need starts to establish themselves. Hellickson seemed likely to be on the outside looking in for the last 2½ weeks of the season.

But because of last week’s doubleheaders, the Nationals need a starter for Saturday, and they will use Hellickson against the first-place Braves. Tanner Roark will start Sunday.

What happens next will also require decision-making, as Fedde and Roark threw on the same day in Philadelphia. Fedde could therefore pitch Monday, but Monday is the day Stephen Strasburg would be on regular rest and the Nationals like to keep him in his every-five-days routine. Ross will be on full rest Tuesday, but either Strasburg or Fedde would need to pitch then. Max Scherzer will be on full rest for the day off Wednesday, meaning he will probably pitch Thursday, so Strasburg, Fedde or Ross will have to pitch on much longer rest Friday . . . and so on. Hellickson does not necessarily fit in past Saturday’s start.

The Nationals have already squeezed people out of their rotation as it is. Jefry Rodriguez will pitch out of the bullpen for the rest of the season, according to Manager Dave Martinez, who thinks he will probably use Rodriguez in a long-man role. But Martinez admitted he wouldn’t mind seeing what Rodriguez can do in a shorter stint.

“I’d like to see what that really looks like,” Martinez said. “If he comes out and throws 100 miles per hour, that would be nice.”

In the meantime, Hellickson seems unlikely to find many more starting opportunities this season, which makes his situation more complicated. Hellickson will be a free agent after this season and should have better luck this offseason than he did when he had to sign a minor league deal with the Nationals in spring training. The former American League rookie of the year is two years removed from receiving a qualifying offer from the Phillies, and his numbers this year resemble the ones he compiled that season as opposed to the ones he accumulated in his disappointing 2017.

At 31, he has certainly not aged out of consideration for a multiyear deal, though his stuff certainly does not light up radar guns — and, therefore, does not always light up the eyes of front office people hunting for depth. But with a few more good starts, Hellickson will perhaps have pitched his way into a far more tolerable offseason than the one he endured last year. The Nationals, at least, probably would not mind bringing him back for depth should no other opportunities materialize.


Adam Eaton RF

Trea Turner SS

Bryce Harper CF

Anthony Rendon 3B

Juan Soto LF

Ryan Zimmerman 1B

Matt Wieters C

Wilmer Difo 2B

Max Scherzer P


Ronald Acuna Jr. LF

Ozzie Albies 2B

Freddie Freeman 1B

Nick Markakis RF

Charlie Culberson 3B

Ender Inciarte CF

Tyler Flowers C

Dansby Swanson SS

Kevin Gausman P