The Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics have done very well so far in the playoffs by going with an inexperienced but talented starting pitcher during the division series round. Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole and Oakland's Sonny Gray have been key reasons both teams still are in position to advance to their league's respective championship series.
The Tampa Bay Rays weren't prepared to give a similar responsibility to Chris Archer, a right-hander with 27 career starts under his belt. Archer finished with a 3.22 ERA and 101 strikeouts in 128 2/3 innings. He has been the Rays' third-best pitcher after David Price and Alex Cobb.
Instead of Archer, they're going with Jeremy Hellickson against the Boston Red Sox in Game 4 on Tuesday, a win-or-go-home situation for Tampa Bay. Hellickson is only a few months older than Archer, but already has made 95 career starts.
The concern is, Hellickson regressed in 2013, finishing with a 5.17 ERA. Only two other starters in the majors posted higher ERAs. Advanced stats give Hellickson a break — he hasn't pitched that poorly — but we're talking about an elimination game against the Boston Red Sox, mightiest offense in the league. What do the Rays see in Hellickson at this moment?
The Tampa Bay Times reports:
The Rays chose Hellickson despite his ongoing struggles because they felt he matched up better against the Red Sox than Archer based primarily, manager Joe Maddon said, on "our little esoteric stuff." Archer will be in the bullpen, and he was used in Friday's Game 1. RHP Jake Odorizzi was another option.
Hellickson, who hasn't gotten through five innings in his past three starts, admitted he was concerned about even being on the Division Series roster, so he was "very happy" to hear he would get a start.
The key to his success, usually, is keeping his fastball down and throwing an effective change up. It's easier to say than it has been for Hellickson to do.
Hellickson also has been good, or at least OK, in his career against the Red Sox, posting a 4.21 ERA in 12 starts. Some of his better outing this season have come against Boston. If he can go six innings and allow three runs, they'll be ecstatic. Hey, Joe Maddon frequently knows what the right thing to do is. It's not like he's booking a magician or a cabaret act to perform in the clubhouse; he's a veteran baseball man. It just seems like maybe they should give the kid a shot in the playoffs like the Pirates, Cards and A's have.
Archer will be standing by in the bullpen, regardless, ready to pitch in relief. Of course, it might be too late by then — especially if the Rays hitters can't get to Red Sox starter Jake Peavy.