“Overpowering Jeremy Hellickson“- don’t get to hear that too often. But on Monday night, that was definitely the case. Jeremy Hellickson primarily works fastball-changeup and that was still the case on Tuesday night. But an unhittable curveball, one that looked like his best of the season, tied up his arsenal and made hitters not just off-balance against Hellickson but catching their breath trying to keep up. According to Brooks Baseball, Hellickson threw 15 curveballs out of his 97 pitches. 10 of those 15 were strikes, including 3 on swings-and-misses. Just 1 of them were put into play as hitters could do absolutely nothing against it and just had to hope Hellickson missed the zone. He didn’t too often. Adding his curveball to his always-impressive changeup, Hellickson breezed through his outing and helped the Rays to their 5th straight victory.
The Rays took the lead against lefty Will Smith and the Royals in the 2nd inning as Sean Rodriguez walked with 1 out and Jose Lobaton singled two batters later before Elliot Johnson laced an RBI single to give the Rays a 1-0 lead before Lobaton was thrown out trying to go first to third. The Royals tied the game in the top of the 3rd on one of the softest rallies you’ll ever see, two straight bloop singles, a double play groundball, and then the RBI hit, a groundball behind 1st that Ryan Roberts made a nice play to range over far to his left but was unable to come up with. But the Rays came back with a run in the bottom of the inning as Desmond Jennings led off the inning with a booming triple before scoring on a wild pitch.
Entering Monday, Desmond Jennings was hitting well of late, posting a .297 batting average and a .350 OBP in his previous 9 games, but his power was hard to find is just 2 of his 11 hits went for extra bases and his SLG was just .405, a puny .108 ISO. But Desmond Jennings’ power resurfaced on Monday as he delivered just his third multi-extra-base hit game in 97 games, 90 starts, in 2012 after 4 in just 63 games, 61 starts, in 2011. Hopefully it’s the start of a trend.
In the 4th inning, the Rays continued their offense in support of Hellickson, stringing together a Sean Rodriguez double, and after Sam Fuld struck out, consecutive singles by Jose Lobaton and Elliot Johnson, with Lobaton’s driving Rodriguez in to make it a 3-1 game. Desmond Jennings followed with another rocket extra-base hit, this time a rocket to left-center, scoring Lobaton easily before the Royals did a pretty relay from left fielder Alex Gordon to shortstop Alcides Escobar to catcher Salvador Perez to nab Johnson at home on a close call by the umpire. Perez stood up pretending that there wasn’t even going to be a throw home before putting his leg out to block the plate just as the ball arrived and tagged Johnson just before he touched home plate as Johnson had to redirect his hand to touch home thanks to Perez’s leg. But it was a 4-1 game, and Hellickson didn’t need even that many runs on this night. The Rays got him one more anyway, with Jeff Keppinger slamming a solo home run, but Hellickson was in control.
Hellickson retired 7 straight from the last out of the 3rd until the 5th before his defense got him into trouble in the 6th. Alcides Escobar reached to begin the inning on an Elliot Johnson error before Hellickson walked Alex Gordon as he got unraveled just a little bit. Billy Butler then hit a taylor-made groundball to short for a double play, but then the bizarre happened as Ryan Roberts’ throw to Jeff Keppinger for the force at 1st went right through the webbing of Keppinger’s glove as Kepp’s glove broke to give the Royals 1st and 3rd with 1 out. But Hellickson was able to force another perfect double play ball off the bat of Salvador Perez, this one of the 5-4-3 variety, to escape further trouble. In the 7th, Hellickson worked around an Eric Hosmer single on what might have been his only real mistake pitch of the game, a fastball waist-high and right down the middle, to pitch a scoreless frame to finish off his outing. Hellickson went 7 innings allowing just 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 6 while walking 1. 65 of his 98 pitches were strikes and although his groundout to flyout ratio was just 7-4, nothing was hit hard other than the Hosmer single the entire game. Hellickson looked the best that he has been all season, and with a little better luck in the 3rd and some better defense behind him, this game had a chance to be a complete-game shutout. But Hellickson will be perfectly content with the outing he had as he went 7 strong innings and led the Rays to an easy win.
J.P. Howell extended his scoreless streak to 25.2 innings with a 1-2-3 inning in the 8th before Kyle Farnsworth worked around a hit in the 9th in a non-save situation to pitch a scoreless inning as the Rays won 5-1. Hellickson (8-8) earned the win while Will Smith (4-5) took the loss for Kansas City. It was another complete win for the Rays as Hellickson was tremendous and the offense scored 5 or more runs for the 5th consecutive game, easily their longest streak of the season (previous high was 3) to come away with a smooth victory despite some crazy things going on. Two runners were thrown out on the bases and Elliot Johnson had a lot of trouble at shortstop while Keppinger had the glove malfunction, but we can laugh about all of it now as the pitching was great, the offense delivered, and the Rays earned their 5th straight win to pull within 4 games of the Yankees in the AL East and extend their lead over the second-place Orioles in the wild card to 2 games. The Rays send ace and 2007 first overall pick David Price to the mound against his 2006 counterpart Luke Hochevar for the Royals as the Rays look to keep rolling.