ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Tampa Bay has been on a roll of late, helped by a potent offense and the continued improvement of starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson. The right-hander pitched seven strong innings Friday night, leading the Rays to an 8-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox.
Hellickson (8-3) allowed six hits, struck out nine and walked none en route to his fourth consecutive triumph and fifth win in six decisions at Tropicana Field.
Jose Molina and Kelly Johnson clubbed back-to-back home runs in a five-run second inning off White Sox starter Dylan Axelrod, who has allowed a team-high 17 homers and 10 in his last five starts.
"I was throwing strikes; just balls up a little bit, maybe too much of the plate at times," Axelrod said. "I didn't feel like I was throwing horrible pitches, but obviously not good enough."
Hellickson tied a club record for victories in a calendar month with five in June after winning only once in May when he posted a 6.69 ERA in six assignments.
"I'm feeling the same as I was when things were going bad," he said. "It's just a matter of keeping the ball down, getting ahead and making a big pitch when I need to."
Luke Scott began the seven-hit outburst with a leadoff double. Molina and Johnson made it 3-0 with one out. Desmond Jennings, Evan Longoria and James Loney added singles before Wil Myers finished off Axelrod (3-5) with a two-out double that made it 5-0.
The Rays added two runs in the fourth inning. Myers drove in Jennings with a sacrifice fly, and Scott singled in Matt Joyce.
The White Sox got their run on the first major league hit by Josh Phegley, who was called up from the minor leagues earlier in the day. His fifth-inning single drove in Gordon Beckham, who had doubled.
"It was exciting and stressful and nerve-wracking all at the same time. Wish it would have went a little better for us, but it was an experience," said Phegley, who was hitting .316 for Triple-A Charlotte and had been selected to represent the United States in the All-Star Futures Game in New York.
Molina scored the final run for Tampa Bay on a bases-loaded walk drawn by Loney, whose first-inning single extended his hitting streak to a career-best 16 games. He is three shy of the team record set by Jason Bartlett in 2009.
Jennings and Scott each collected three of the Rays' 14 hits. Loney and Molina added two apiece.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon noted his team has averaged seven runs and 12 hits in its last five games because of greater selectivity at the plate.
"We're just not expanding the strike zone," he said. "It's primarily based on that. For the most part, we're not swinging at balls right now."
Conor Gilaspie and Beckham each had two hits in the 10-hit attack for the White Sox. Gilaspie ranks second among American League rookies with 56 hits.
Chicago, which was victorious in its last four games at Tampa Bay dating to April 21, 2011, has won only two its last nine games and 10 of 35.
NOTES: The Rays have won six of their last seven games and nine of 12. ... The White Sox also called up OF Blake Tekotte from Triple A and designated C Hector Gimenez for assignment. ... The Rays have won four of the first five games in a stretch of 14 in a row before the All-Star break against clubs with losing records. The remaining nine games will be at home. ... Chicago has dropped 17 of its last 21 road games. ... The distribution of Evan Longoria retro bobbleheads will highlight a tribute to the 1970s on Saturday. The Tampa Bay 3B was born in 1985. ... Tampa Bay RHP Alex Cobb threw off a mound for the first time since being struck by a line drive on the side of his head during a June 15 game against Kansas City. There is no timetable for his return to the starting rotation. ... Chicago 1B Jeff Keppinger came in batting .438 (14-for-32) in his last 10 games. He went 1-for-4 with a ninth-inning single.