A quick look at the stat line for Jeremy Hellickson‘s first start would show that he gave up five earned runs in 6.1 innings of work last night. He gave up eight hits, allowed only one walk, and continued to have problems accumulating strikeouts, as he only struck out two Orioles hitters. However, there were a couple of positives coming from Hellickson’s outing.
First, he lasted into the seventh inning in this start. Last year, he went 6.1 innings or more in only nine of his 31 outings, and pitched into the seventh on one other occasion. One of the major questions heading into the season was how the Rays would replace the innings pitched by James Shields, and it was expected that Hellickson, Alex Cobb and Matt Moore would need to step up and go deeper into games. Even though it is only one start, Hellickson lasting into the fifth on a night where he didn’t have his best stuff is an encouraging sign.
Second, Hellickson threw only 94 pitches to get that far into the game. Last season, he threw at least 94 pitches in 23 of his starts, including six starts that were of five innings or less. Part of what the Rays were looking to do in order to last deeper into games was to pitch more to contact, trusting their defense to make plays. Hellickson appeared to do just that, as 15 of the 28 batters that he faced put the ball in play within three pitches.
Hellickson also went after the batter, as he had 19 first pitch strikes. Part of the idea of pitching to contact is to get ahead, and to make the batter hit the pitch that you want him to swing at. Even though the results may not have been what Hellickson, and the Rays, were hoping for, it seems as though he is taking steps towards becoming someone that can be more than a six inning pitcher.
Yes, it is only one start, so it is difficult to truly extrapolate much from the one outing. However, if one looks beyond the box score, there were several promising signs for Jeremy Hellickson last night. If he can continue to pitch deeper into games, then the loss of James Shields may not be as major as it seemed heading into the season.