Major League Baseball

Nats, struggling Hellickson meets Cubs in series finale

mlb15CUBS (26-17) AT NATIONALS (19-26)
7:05 p.m. ET; ESPN, MLB.TV

The Nationals will make their first appearance of the season on Sunday Night Baseball, facing a familiar prime-time team in the Chicago Cubs in the finale of a three-game set in D.C.

Washington, with struggles from the back end of the rotation, will hope to get some length from starter Jeremy Hellickson (2-2, 6.00 ERA). The veteran right-hander will make his fourth career start against Chicago, while the Cubs will counter with veteran right-hander Kyle Hendricks (3-4, 2.86).

The Nationals are hesitant to let Hellickson face opposing batters the third time through the order.

This year he is averaging less than five innings per outing in seven starts. Hellickson has also made one appearance out of the bullpen.

In his only start against the Cubs last year, he did not allow a hit in the first 5 2/3 innings, but he was lifted anyway after he allowed four walks and two runs. The only time Hellickson beat the Cubs was in 2015.

Cubs hitters are 9-for-41 (.220) with three homers off Hellickson. That includes Javier Baez, one of the top hitters in the league, who is 2-for-4 with a homer in his career against Hellickson.

Hendricks is 2-2 with a 2.61 ERA in seven career starts against Washington, and last beat the Nationals in 2016.

He allowed just a solo homer in eight innings Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds, the only run he has allowed while going 2-0 in his last three starts. Hendricks is the first pitcher since 2014 to throw at least eight innings and fewer than 100 pitches in three straight starts, one of which was an 81-pitch complete game shutout of St. Louis on May 3.

Nationals batters are 22-for-103 (.214) against Hendricks, with two of three homers allowed coming by Adam Eaton, normally not a power hitter. Eaton is 4-for-13 (.308) against Hendricks, though he has struck out five times.

In the first game of the series Friday, the Cubs scored 10 runs in the last three innings off the Washington bullpen and won 14-6 as Kris Bryant hit three homers — all in the last three innings.

The series got some drama Saturday when Cubs manager Joe Maddon played the game under protest with one out in the ninth. Maddon complained to the umpires twice about the delivery of Nats closer Sean Doolittle, who got the last three outs in the 5-2 win.

Earlier this year, Cubs pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. had to go back to the minors to work on his delivery. Maddon said after Saturday’s game he wouldn’t be “a good parent” if he didn’t complain to the umpires about what he feels is a similar delivery by Doolittle.

“If he taps the ground (with his foot), it is an illegal pitch,” said Maddon, sitting in his office. “So we protested the game.”

Before Saturday’s game, the Nationals called up right-hander Tanner Rainey from Triple-A Fresno. He took the spot of reliever Justin Miller, who went on the injured list. Rainey was acquired in the deal with the Reds for Tanner Roark in December.

“He’s got a live fastball,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters of Rainey. “His slider towards the end of spring training was really, really good. He continued to progress into (regular-season) play this year and has been pitching well.”

–Field Level Media

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