It seems as though we have been waiting for Jeremy Hellickson to take that next step, to show that there is something beyond a solid middle of the rotation starter. To be that next top flight starter that he has been expected to be. This afternoon, he appeared to take that next step.
Things did not look overly promising in the first inning, however. After a leadoff double, Jose Bautista singled to score Anthony Gose, putting the Blue Jays ahead four pitches into Hellickson’s outing. Then, things appeared to turn around for the Rays. Edwin Encarnacion flew out to left, and Kelly Johnson gunned down Bautista at second for the double play.
From that point on, Hellickson began cruising through the Toronto lineup. His curveball looked as sharp as it had been, and he had excellent command over the last few innings. Most importantly, he limited the amount of pitches he threw, attacking hitters and throwing strikes. This was the Hellickson that we had been waiting for.
The Rays took the lead in the third, putting runners on first and second with two out. Ryan Roberts hit a slow grounder for an infield hit that Macier Itzuris tried to grab with his bare hand, but missed the ball, allowing a run to score and putting runners on first and third. Ben Zobrist followed with a single, putting the Rays ahead 2-1.
Hellickson made one mistake the rest of the way, and Bautista jumped all over it, hammering the pitch into the second deck to tie the game. But Hellickson bounced back, lasting a season high eight innings, giving up only two runs on four hits and a walk, striking out four. Even if the strikeout totals were not impressive, Hellickson still had his best start of the season, which is even more outstanding considering how he gave up eight runs in his last start.
Tampa took the lead in the ninth, as Evan Longoria doubled with one out, bringing up James Loney. Loney singled, bringing home Longoria as the Rays took the 3-2 lead. With Fernando Rodney ready to close out the game, the Rays appeared to be following their formula for success, with timely hitting and excellent pitching.
Unfortunately, Rodney again was unable to replicate his performance last year. Buatista struck yet again, taking a 3-2 pitch from Rodney and depositing it in left to tie the game. After a one out walk, Rodney left, having blown his fourth save in thirteen chances. In the bottom of the tenth, the Rays defense let them down. Loney was originally given an error on what would later be changed to an infield hit for Colby Rasmus to lead off the inning against Ceasr Ramos. A sacrifice and a groundout put Rasmus on third with two outs. Following a walk to pinch hitter Mark DeRosa, Kyle Farnsworth came in to face Jose Bautista. Given how Farnsworth has looked this season, the matchup went as expected, with Bautista singling to right to drive in the game winning run as the Rays fell 4-3.
Baustita was a one man wrecking crew, having four of the Blue Jays seven hits as he went 4-4 with two home runs, a walk and four RBIs. It definitely stands to wonder why Bautista was not intentionally walked in that situation, as neither his run nor DeRosa’s meant anything at that point, and why Farnsworth was brought in to face him.
For the Rays, Jose Molina was 2-4 with a run scored against his old team.