The promising 23-year-old right-hander looks for a third consecutive win to begin his career when the Rays conclude a three-game set against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday.
Hellickson (2-0, 1.29 ERA) is considered one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, a reputation bolstered by a 12-3 record, 2.45 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 117 2-3 innings over 21 starts for Triple-A Durham this season.
Moving to the majors hasn’t posed much of a problem.
Hellickson won his debut Aug. 2 by yielding two runs and three hits with six strikeouts in seven innings of a 4-2 win over Minnesota. He followed that eight days later with an even better performance, allowing three hits and fanning seven without a walk in seven innings of an 8-0 win at Detroit.
“I felt really good,” said Hellickson, who retired 18 Tigers in a row after yielding a game-opening single. “As long as I can throw my curveball for a strike, I feel I can be successful.”
The Rays need Hellickson to keep performing at a high level considering they are missing starters Wade Davis(notes) and Jeff Niemann(notes), both on the disabled list with shoulder injuries. Another strong effort in his first game against Baltimore (41-76) could help the second-place Rays (70-46) continue applying significant pressure on New York atop the AL East.
“He knows how to pitch, that’s for sure,” right-hander James Shields(notes) told the team’s official website. “He’s got really good command of his pitches. He knows where each one of them is going. That’s one of the main differences between the minor leagues and the major leagues.”
While Hellickson immediately dominating is a bit of a surprise, Tampa Bay got a stunning performance in Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Orioles. Catcher Kelly Shoppach(notes) had two homers, including a grand slam, and a career-high five RBIs as the Rays tied a season high with 15 hits.
They had been hitting .213 over the previous 19 games, and Shoppach entered with a .195 average and one home run in 38 games.
“It had to happen at some point, you’d like to think,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We’ve had plenty of baserunners, a lot of opportunities. We’ve just not been able to finish the deal.”
Baltimore is trying to rebound from its third loss in 12 games since Buck Showalter was hired as manager.
The 24-year-old right-hander allowed six runs, including five in a rough fourth inning. He responded with two scoreless innings before exiting and posted his first win in five outings since July 11, leaving Showalter impressed.
“It’s good to see Jake fight his way through that,” Showalter told the team’s official website. “A lot of guys would have put a tent up around them and shut it down, but (he) went back out there and gave us another (two innings).”
Arrieta struggled in his only start against Tampa Bay on July 20, giving up five runs and two homers in 5 1-3 innings of an 11-10, 13-inning win.