There’s a certain image in our minds of pitcher that are likely to throw a no-hitter. That image is far from universally right, but we certainly saw it on display against the Rays on Wednesday night. Felix Hernandez is the perfect example of a dominating, fireballing hotshot pitcher who we think is a threat to throw a no-hitter every time out. The pitcher Hernandez was matched up against does not fit that profile. Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t throw hard and depends heavily on his changeup. Instead of blowing it by hitters, he has to maintain pinpoint command and control to be successful. Wednesday was the perfect example of that.
On Wednesday night, Felix Hernandez was as dominant as you’ll ever see, making Rays hitters look terrible with his mid-90’s fastball and devastating curveball, slider, and changeup. Jeremy Hellickson allowed just 1 run in 7 innings but wasn’t overpowering by any stretch, striking out just 1 and walking 1 as well. Just 1 strikeout means that he recorded 19 outs on balls in play. 10 of those were groundouts, 5 were flyouts, and 3 were lineouts (including a double play). He kept hitters mostly off-balance, but he was unable to miss bats and was extremely dependent on his defense and, quite frankly, on luck to allow just 5 hits and 1 run.
What is true perfection? It doesn’t exist. No pitcher is going to throw every single pitch perfectly. There will always be mistakes made and there will always be a dependence on external factors, specifically luck and defense. The best pitchers seize control of as much as they can. There’s a saying that it’s better to be lucky than good. That can be true in short-term but never in long run. Imagine if Felix Hernandez struck out 12 while walking none in a complete game but allowed a bloop single when he jammed somebody and then a solo home run on one of his few mistakes of the game. Jeremy Hellickson would have been the winner in a game he never deserved to win. Felix Hernandez is a better pitcher than Jeremy Hellickson. No one disputes that. What’s frustrating is watching Hellickson’s ERA go down with luck being the primary factor. Jeremy Hellickson hasn’t managed a 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio in 4 starts. We can’t expect him to be perfect. We can’t expect him to come in and dominate hitters like he did when he first came up at the end of 2010. We get it. Jeremy Hellickson has an innate ability to force weak contact in the air. His strikeout, walk, and even homer and groundball rates don’t tell the whole story. But for Hellickson to take the next step as a pitcher, his only option is do everything he can to keep external factors on the sidelines. Right now, Jeremy Hellickson is a time bomb waiting to go off. For every pitcher, it happens- the ability wanes, the performance declines. The only thing they can do is to work nonstop to say at their apex just a little bit longer. Can Jeremy Hellickson do that?