After Jeremy Hellickson went without a victory for more than two months, he’s been superb in winning each of his last two starts.
In what could be a low-scoring affair, Hellickson takes the mound against Chen as the Rays continue a three-game set with the visiting Orioles on Saturday night.
Hellickson (6-6, 3.23 ERA) posted an 0-6 record and a 4.29 ERA over a nine-start stretch May 21-July 18 but has since picked up the pace. He gave up one run and three hits in 6 1-3 innings during a 3-1 win over Chen and the Orioles on July 24, then struck out five and walked none over six innings of two-hit ball Sunday in a 2-0 road victory over the Los Angeles Angels.
“Throwing strikes was the main thing,” he said. “The last two games I’ve been attacking the hitters better than I have been. Having no walks is huge for me. I was getting ahead of guys, and the defense was making good plays for me.”
Hellickson, who admitted to vomiting five times Sunday, was removed after throwing just 86 pitches.
“I give him a lot of credit. I know he was struggling through the whole thing, and it was hot out there. So it made no sense to send him back out there,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He was chalkier than a Des Moines winter.”
Chen (9-6, 3.65) enters the weekend having gone 2-1 with a 2.49 ERA in four starts since the All-Star break, and he was especially good his last time out. The rookie left-hander allowed one unearned run and three hits while striking out a season-high 12 in 5 2-3 innings of Sunday’s 6-1 victory over Oakland, setting a single-game MLB record for strikeouts by a Taiwanese-born pitcher.
“I’m sure he’ll be modest about it, but there’s not a second you don’t take that in and realize (what it means),” manager Buck Showalter said. “When you talk about the history of baseball, it always gets my attention. It was fun to watch. I don’t for a second not take in what it means to the people of Taiwan. I’m sure they’re very proud of Wei-Yin, probably as much as we are.”
While Chen has compiled a 5.84 ERA in losing both his meetings with the Rays (56-50), Hellickson has thrived in this series. The right-hander, 5-2 with a 1.99 ERA over eight career starts versus the Orioles, has gone 3-1 with a 0.88 ERA in four home outings against them.
Baltimore (55-51) has had a hard time scoring runs at Tropicana Field in general of late, losing five of six there by a 30-10 margin. The Orioles dropped Friday’s series opener 2-0, managing eight hits - all singles - and going 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
“You get some opportunities, you better take advantage of them,” Showalter said.
B.J. Upton hit career home run No. 100 and Desmond Jennings also went deep to help the Rays post their fifth win in six games overall. The 27-year-old Upton joins Rickey Henderson, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds, Cesar Cedeno, Lloyd Moseby, Eric Davis and Hanley Ramirez as the only players to hit 100 homers and steal 200 bases before age 28.
“Anytime you can be in the same sentence with any of those guys, it’s always an honor,” said Upton, whose brother Justin also hit his 100th career home run Friday for Arizona.
Tampa Bay’s staff has posted four shutouts, a 0.75 ERA and 69 strikeouts in the last six games.