So far in 2012, Jeremy Hellickson has struck out noticeably more batters than ever before. After his start on Thursday, he has struck out 26 batters in 31.1 innings pitched, a solid 7.5 per 9 innings, well above his career mark of just 6.2 per 9, and in his last 3 starts, he has struck out 23 batters in 20 innings, more than 1 per frame. Hellickson’s uptick in strikeouts bodes extremely well for his future and it’s clear that he has matured quite a bit as a pitcher since arriving in the major leagues. But strikeouts are far from everything as Hellickson struck out 8 in 6 innings for the Rays on Thursday but also allowed 5 runs as the Rays fell 5-2.
The first inning was a complete disaster for Hellickson and put the Rays in a tough position from the very start. The inning began with doubles off the bats of Alejandro De Aza and ex-Ray Jeff Keppinger along with a walk to Adam Dunn before Hellickson could record an out, and 3 runs come across by the time Hellickson finally got out of the inning. From there, though, Hellickson began to roll, allowing just 1 hit in the next 4 innings, striking out 6 in the process. But in the 6th, Hellickson could not finish his outing on a strong note, allowing a 2-run home run to Adam Dunn that was the kiss of death for the Rays in this game as it put them down 3 runs at 5-2. Hellickson had a rough outing overall, going 6 innings allowing 5 runs on 5 hits, striking out 8 while walking 4. However, he was great for the middle four innings of his outing and there remains plenty of reason for optimism. Tough for Hellickson to just not have his command in the first inning, but from then on, he was sharp, making only the mistake to Dunn, and if Hellickson remains this overbearing, a big season will be ahead for him.
In terms of the Rays offense, Evan Longoria had an RBI single in the 1st inning to give the Rays a short-lived 1-0 lead before Jose Lobaton punctuated a 2 for 2 day with a solo home run in the 5th. Chris Sale and White Sox pitching limited the Rays to just 5 hits all game as their offense was non-existent, and combining that with an uneven game for Hellickson made this one tough to watch. The Rays did also get strong work from their bullpen, with Jamey Wright working a scoreless 7th before Brandon Gomes struck out the side in the 8th to give the Rays 12 strikeouts in the game, but by then, it was too little, too late. The Rays will look to rebound on Friday night, with Roberto Hernandez taking on Jake Peavy as the Rays hope to get back on the winning track.