Nationals lose starter Jeremy Hellickson to DL with hamstring strain

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals' injury bug has finally hit their starting rotation.

The club placed right-hander Jeremy Hellickson on the 10-day disabled list on Tuesday with a right hamstring strain. Hellickson sustained the injury while covering first base in the first inning of his most recent outing on Sunday against the Atlanta Braves.

The 31-year old hurler joins a lengthy list of walking wounded in Washington. The Nationals lead the National League with 599 player days lost to the DL and are already without key position players such as second baseman Daniel Murphy (knee), outfielder Adam Eaton (ankle), catcher Matt Wieters (hamstring), first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (oblique) and utility man Howie Kendrick (Achilles). Prior to Hellickson's injury, the Nats' vaunted rotation, which boasts an NL-best 2.90 ERA, had managed to remain intact this season.

Although Murphy and Eaton are currently on rehab assignments and Eaton is eligible to return this Friday, it's unclear how long Hellickson will be sidelined.

"It's a mild hamsring strain, so I'm going to treat it like that," said manager Davey Martinez before Tuesday's series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays. "We don't know how long he's going to be out, but he's going to miss a couple starts. He's on the 10-day DL, so we'll play it by ear."

Depending on how long Hellickson is out, the Nationals, who are currently carrying a nine-man bullpen and have four days off scheduled over the next three weeks, could conceivably get by without adding a fifth starter. That said, Martinez is hesitant to tax a rotation that has thrown 30 more innings than the next-closest NL team.

"I don't want to strain the workload on the guys we've got," Washington's skipper said. "These guys are doing really well. When we feel like we need to pop somebody in there, we will."

If Martinez decides to use a fifth starter in Hellickson's place, options could include Triple-A hurlers Erick Fedde and Austin Voth. Another possibility would be righty Jefry Rodriguez, who made 97 starts in the minors prior to his big league debut on Sunday, when he worked 4 2/3 scoreless innings in relief after Hellickson exited.

Hellickson, who posted a 5.43 ERA last season in 30 starts with the Philadelphia Phillies and Baltimore Orioles, signed a one-year deal with Washington two weeks before the start of the 2018 season. A former Rookie of the Year winner with Tampa Bay, he's 2-0 with a 2.28 ERA in nine starts with the Nationals.