Orioles swung and missed with midseason deal for pending free-agent starter Jeremy Hellickson

Jeremy Hellickson has likely made his last start in an Orioles uniform, and the club's acquisition of the right-hander July 28 just before the nonwaiver trade deadline didn't provide the boost to a struggling starting rotation that the team had expected.

Hellickson's results in the 10 games he started with the Orioles went largely against his reputation of being a veteran arm who limited damage, kept walks down and kept the ball in the ballpark, and he was less effective than he had been earlier this season with the Philadelphia Phillies.


The Orioles dealt outfielder Hyun-Soo Kim and Double-A Bowie left-hander Garrett Cleavinger to the Phillies to acquire Hellickson, who was being paid roughly $5.67 million for the final two months of the season as part of a one-year, $17 million deal with the Phillies.

Now, his season is likely done because of nagging back stiffness. Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Tuesday that he isn't sure whether Hellickson would have made another start regardless of his injury.


Hellickson said his back has locked up on him over the past couple of days, but that it's something he's dealt with between his recent starts and it's not something he believes has affected his performance on a whole.

"No, I felt great every start, just maybe in the fourth inning of the Yankee game [Sept. 16 at Yankee Stadium]. It was really stiff that inning. But that was the only time," he said. "It's something that if we were still in it, it's something I could treat and go out there and pitch, but it's probably not the smartest thing to do."

Hellickson had five quality starts in his 10 Orioles outings but failed to get beyond five innings in the other five. And his four September starts included one three-inning outing and one of 2 1/3 innings.

"It was definitely an inconsistent two months," Hellickson said. "I think half my starts were quality and then the other half, I'd give up four-plus runs in five different innings, five-plus runs. In the past that's been one of my strengths is to kind of limit those big innings and for some reason I had a lot of big innings this year."

In his 10 starts with the Orioles, his walks (3.0 per nine innings) and home runs allowed (2.3 per nine) were up considerably from his career numbers (2.7 walks per nine innings, 1.3 homers) and his numbers from 20 starts with the Phillies this season (2.4, 1.8).

But even though he had a 6.97 ERA in his 10 starts with the Orioles with 13 homers allowed, opponents hit just .243 off him. That would indicate that when hits came off Hellickson, they were in bunched and combined with ill-timed walks.

"I definitely think that's something that I'll fix next year and it definitely won't continue," Hellickson said. "But there's nothing I can really do about it now. The good thing is my arm felt great the whole year. I thought my stuff was really good. Just a lot of those games the lines didn't look good at the end. It was always one inning, it felt like. I'd go three or four scoreless and give up five runs or something. I felt like I didn't give up a lot of hits, but when I did it was a three-run homer, a couple three-run homers, which isn't good. But the good thing is my arm felt great the whole year and I'm healthy.

"I don't think I used my fastball enough. I think that was probably the biggest thing. Other than that, lost command there a couple games. Between the walks and not keeping the ball in the yard, I gave up a lot of big innings."

Presumably done for the season, Kevin Gausman could get one more chance to end the season on a high note.

Hellickson abandoned his fastball down the stretch, especially in September, according to Brooks Baseball data. He threw his four-seamer just 4.19 percent of the time in September — he threw his four-seamer 19.51 percent during the season — leaning more on his two-seam sinker and changeup. Opponents hit .400 off Hellickson's sinker in September.

His four-seam fastball usage has steadily declined in recent years — from 55.81 percent in 2015 to 33.57 in percent in '16 to 19.51 this season — but any decline in fastball velocity over that span was slight and incremental.

"He's had a good career so far," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "I'm sure he's got some things planned out for next year. He's a free agent. I know what he was like in Tampa [Bay], and nobody's the same three or four years later. Everybody changes somewhat. I'm not going to get into some of the challenges that I think he's faced here in this season. Hopefully, he will get then behind him and be a good pitcher for someone next year."

The Orioles haven't announced it yet, but new safety is in the works for Oriole Park.

Pitching in the rough-and-tumble American League East — where Hellickson thrived in his early days with the Rays — probably didn’t help.

It’s not expected that Hellickson will be with the Orioles next season, but despite his struggles, he said he’d consider returning to Baltimore, saying he meshed well inside the veteran-heavy clubhouse. He conceded, however, that calling hitter-friendly Camden Yards his home ballpark was difficult.

“Yeah, I’d consider anything,” Hellickson said. “I loved my two months here. It’s an awesome group of guys. Pitching at Camden wasn’t too much fun, but it’s definitely someplace I’d like to come back to. I had a good time here.”


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