Thursday night was a relapse for Jeremy Hellickson. No, we’re not talking about drugs, alcohol or anything as heinous, but it was undeniably a relapse nevertheless. Now that it has happened, Hellickson’s ERA stands at 5.67 on the season through 14 starts and the Rays lost any chance of winning what had been a very close game.
Hellickson pitched great for the first 5 innings, allowing just 2 hits. But Hellickson’s problem all season has been finishing his outings, and against the Royals, that flaw was as exposed as ever. The 6th inning began with an Elliot Johnson single on a misplaced fastball, and then an Alcides Escobar double past 3rd gave the Royals a couple runners on. Then Alex Gordon singled up the middle to make it 1-0 Royals and a wild pitch made it 2-0 with still nobody out. By that point, it was clear that Hellickson made a few bad pitches, but the damage was done and you had to hope he could move on. Hellickson proceeded to get Eric Hosmer to fly out and you had to hope he had regained his composure. He had not.
Salvador Perez grounded a single up the middle to make it 3-0 then Billy Butler grounded another single to give the Royals 1st and 3rd. You listen to all these hits and most of them were not hit very hard–Hellickson was getting unlucky. But it didn’t matter how the hits happened and the only thing on Hellickson’s mind had to be getting out of the inning. Alcides srtruck out for the second out and Hellickson was so close to escaping the inning having allowed only three runs. But the Royals weren’t done. David Lough lined a single to make it 4-0 and then Hellickson allowed his second groundball double of the inning off the bat of Miguel Tejada and it was 5-0 Kansas City. And then up came Johnson again and drilled a fastball left up for Hellickson’s only real mistake of the inning, a 3-run homer to make it 8-0. Hellickson never got out of the inning as Jake Odorizzi replaced him for the final out.
We have made such a big deal of Jeremy Hellickson’s luck on batting average on balls in play. One of the reasons he has been so successful has been that he commands his pitches so well that he allows weaker contact. But if Hellickson was truly a great pitcher, he was going to have to find a way to survive even when his luck ran out. This year, Hellickson has completely failed to do that. Hellickson had so many chances to escape the inning and simply could not. With better luck, Hellickson could have allowed just 1 run or 3 or 5. But fortune was not on his side and he was unable to persevere beyond that.
It was a terrible night as well for the Rays offense, who managed just one unearned run the entire game. But amidst all the darkness, there was some light, and that came in the form of Luke Scott. Scott entered the game having gone just 7 for his 55 (.127) but entered the game for James Loney as a pinch-hitter and proceeded to go 2 for 2 with line drive hits to the opposite field. Scott stopped pressing and started using the whole field, and suddenly his slump may be over. This game was a disaster. But if Scott is heating up, you never know how much of a difference that could make for the Rays offense. Matt Moore takes on Luis Mendoza as the Rays hope to get back on track on Friday night.