After Friday night’s outing, however, he may be headed to the bullpen.
The red-hot rookie will try to improve to 4-0 in what may be his final start of the season as the visiting Rays look to rebound from a series-opening loss to the Oakland Athletics.
The highly-touted right-hander held Baltimore to one run and three hits in six innings of Sunday’s 3-2 win, becoming the first player since 1920 to pitch at least six innings and give up three hits or fewer in each of his first three big league games.
“I felt really good out there,” said Hellickson, who is limiting opponents to a .136 batting average. “Maybe not as good as the first two starts, but I settled down after the third inning.”
Tampa Bay’s original plan had been to use the 23-year-old Hellickson in relief, as the club did with left-hander David Price(notes) when he was first called up in 2008. That outcome may come to fruition next week if Davis and Niemann can return from shoulder strains.
“I really, firmly, believe in when you make plans you stay with your plans and you only adjust when you have to,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “For right now we’re still on task and schedule.”
First, Hellickson hopes to help the Rays regain a share of the AL East lead. While Tampa Bay slipped one game behind New York on Thursday night, the club still leads Boston by 5 1/2 games for the wild card.
The Rays (74-47) had won five straight before opening this four-game series with a 4-3 loss. It was their first game against the A’s since May 9, when Dallas Braden(notes) pitched a perfect game against them.
Tampa Bay is a major league-best 35-23 on the road, but has totaled five runs and 12 hits while losing its last three games at Oakland. The A’s are the only AL team with a better ERA than the Rays, allowing 23 earned runs in their last 12 games to lower that mark to 3.55.
Vin Mazzaro(notes) (6-5, 3.71) takes the ball Friday for Oakland, searching for his first win since July 24. The right-hander’s main problem this month has been run support; Mazzaro is 0-2 despite a 2.37 ERA in three August outings.
“No matter what their guy’s doing, you have to keep going out there and battling,” Mazzaro told the A’s official website. “You don’t want to go out there and add pressure on yourself, but you want to keep your guys in the game.”
Oakland (60-60) ranks 26th in the majors with 483 runs, but it put 15 on the board during a three-game winning streak. Cliff Pennington’s(notes) two-out, two-run double rallied the A’s from behind in the sixth inning Thursday.
“Getting two-out hits is what this team has to do to win ballgames,” Pennington said. “When we get a big two-out hit it’s just huge whoever it is.”
Pennington had a game-ending RBI single in Oakland’s previous game, a 5-4 win over Toronto on Wednesday.