The Tampa Bay Rays’ recent struggles have put a damper on their already slim playoff hopes. Facing the pitcher with the most losses in baseball may help them get on a roll.
Coming off only their second win in six games, the Rays host the Baltimore Orioles to complete a three-game series Sunday.
Tampa Bay (75-63) sits nine games back of Boston in the AL wild-card race and 9 1/2 behind AL East leader New York with 24 games remaining. Prior to Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Orioles, the Rays had lost four of five to dim their chances of qualifying for the postseason for the third time in five years.
B.J. Upton(notes) entered Saturday hitting .100 (4 for 40) over his previous 13 games, but busted out of his slump with two run-scoring doubles and five RBIs - his most since setting a career high with six Oct. 2, 2009.
“If you’re a competitor, you do (take it personally),” Upton said. “Nobody likes the guy in front of him walked to get to yourself, so you want to rise to the occasion. It just happened to work out.”
He’ll look for similar results against Jeremy Guthrie(notes) (6-16, 4.42 ERA), who hopes to avoid becoming the first pitcher since Kip Wells(notes) in 2005 and 2007 to lose at least 17 games twice in his career. Guthrie went 10-17 in 2009.
The right-hander has been better over his last two starts. He beat Minnesota 6-1 after allowing one run in seven innings Aug. 24, then gave up three runs in six innings of Baltimore’s 6-5, 10-inning victory over Toronto on Friday.
Guthrie had his worst outing of the season against the Rays on May 7, allowing a season-worst seven runs in five innings of an 8-2 loss. He’s 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA in four starts against Tampa Bay in 2011.
Hellickson has a 1.71 ERA in his last three starts, but only a 1-2 record to show for it due to scant run support. He allowed two runs in six innings of a 2-0 loss to Texas on Friday.
The Rays haven’t scored in Hellickson’s last 13 innings on the mound.
The right-hander also didn’t receive any support June 10 in a 7-0 loss to Baltimore in which he allowed five runs in 5 2-3 innings. Hellickson beat Guthrie in his two starts against the Orioles prior to that outing, pitching five scoreless innings May 7, then throwing a four-hit shutout May 13.
Baltimore (55-82) has totaled 12 runs while losing three of its last four games. Nick Markakis(notes), who hit a grand slam off Hellickson in June, broke an 0-for-14 slump with a two-run homer in the first inning Saturday, though the Orioles allowed the Rays to tie it in the bottom of the frame.
“It’s something that doesn’t happen every night, but it’s happened too much,” Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said of blowing the early lead. “It’s something that we will get better at.”
The Rays and Orioles have split 14 meetings this season.