Whenever the Rays’ starting pitcher struggles, fans have come to expect that their team will lose. That happens to be the case quite often in baseball–but for this Rays team, they have found a way to win games they never would have won in previous years. Jeremy Hellickson fell victim to another bad inning and he very well could have been the headline. But instead, the Rays’ offense came through with a huge game to give Hellickson some confidence with his third win of the season and leave Cleveland having taken the series two games to one.
Don’t look now, but Yunel Escobar is hitting .246. That doesn’t seem so impressive until you recall that he was hitting .089 on April 16th. Since then, he’s now hitting .301 after a huge game on Sunday. Escobar went 3 for 5, capping his day with a 2-run home run in the 6th, and he also made several impressive plays at shortstop. Early on the season, we saw why teams were wary to acquire Escobar, fearful that despite his talent he’ll just fall apart because of his perceived character issues. Now, we’re seeing the ability that tantalized teams for so long coming out in full throttle.
Escobar was far from the only hero for the Rays on the offensive side. James Loney has cooled off considerably of late, but he started the scoring with a 2-run double in the first inning and wound up going 1 for 3 with 2 walks on the day, not leaving a single runner on base. Evan Longoria went 2 for 5 with an RBI single and a 2-run home run, and Matt Joyce, Sam Fuld, and Jose Lobaton all joined Escobar and Longoria by having multi-hit days. The Rays pounded out 11 runs on 14 hits, scoring in 6 of the 9 innings in the game including multiple runs in three different innings. The Rays’ offense continues to establish itself among the best in baseball, and while winning by scoring 11 runs is not usually in the Rays’ gameplan, it’s incredible to see them score like this time after time.
By the end of the game, Jeremy Hellickson had allowed 9 hits in 5 innings of work, appearing to be eminently hittable and lucky to allow only 3 runs. However, if a few things had broken differently, he could have ended up with an excellent outing. In the first three innings of the game, Hellickson had allowed 3 hits but kept the Indians off the board, striking out 4 in the process. Then in the 4th, Hellickson got two quick outs before Mark Reynolds singled. Hellickson forced Carlos Santana to hit a groundball that was seemingly going to get him out of the inning, but it deflected off the glove of James Loney and couldn’t be handled by Ben Zobrist for an infield single. Then Hellickson got Yan Gomes to hit a fairly routine flyball to deep right, but Sam Fuld in center and Matt Joyce in right had a miscommunication, allowing a run to score. He didn’t throw a great pitch, leaving a fastball mid-out, but nevertheless should have escaped the inning twice by that point. And then Hellickson made his first major mistake of the inning, leaving a fastball right down the middle for a Mike Aviles 2-run single and suddenly it was a 4-3 game. Hellickson was out of the game after the following inning.
Hellickson was far from perfect, but he showed flashes of all of his pitches working for most of the game. His changeup was virtually unhittable per usual, going for strikes 20 of 25 times according to Brooks Baseball including 6 swings-and-misses, and even his curveball was solid, going for a strike 9 of 12 times. He made some mistakes with his fastball but did a great job locating it on the whole, including two strikeouts looking. One of those at-bats was especially notable. Against Reynolds leading off the 2nd, Hellickson was down 3-2 having just missed with a fastball and not having thrown his changuep since the third pitch of the at-bat. With Hellickson’s changeup being his go-to pitch, everyone had to be expecting him to throw a changeup 3-2. Instead, Hellickson froze Reynolds with a fastball at the bottom of the zone for called strike three, sending Reynolds back to the dugout bewildered. Hellickson entire arsenal showed a lot of potential, and if his defense had helped it out, this could have been a game where he went say 7 innings allowing 1 run. It’s also notable that he didn’t allow a home run in a start for the second time all season. Hellickson was lifted despite throwing just 82 pitches through 5 innings in a 7-3 game, with Joe Maddon preferring to take him out one inning too early than one inning too late. His outing could have better, but he was able to record the win and head into his next start with confidence in all his offerings after how well he had them working against the Indians.
The Rays’ bullpen finished the game strongly, with Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Jake McGee, and Fernando Rodney tossing a scoreless inning each to close out the game. Farnsworth came in for a curious spot, with Hellickson seemingly having more in the tank and the game being relatively close at 7-3, but Farnsworth did the job, walking around a hit with a double play. Also interesting was that Peralta pitched the 7th and McGee the 8th, especially bizarre considering Peralta faced three lefties and McGee went up against three righties. Could that be a sign that Joe Maddon may be willing to mix-and-match his key late-inning relievers a little more depending on the matchup?
Tough to find much to complain about in this one as the Rays’ offense was excellent, Hellickson showed promise, and the bullpen kept the Indians on lockdown, and the end result was the Rays’ 7th win in their last 8 games and a series win against a tough Indians team. The Rays have an off-day on Monday before heading to Detroit for a big series versus the Tigers. Pending the results of the Sunday night Yankees-Red Sox game, they sit just 2.5 games back in the AL East and only a half game back in the AL Wild Card.