With Jeremy Hellickson making his first start last night since being demoted for a mental break, no one could be certain of what to expect. Would Hellickson be able to regain the form he displayed from June 2nd through July 26th, when he was 8-1 with a 3.17 ERA? Or would he return as the same pitcher he had been during his six starts, going 0-5 with an ERA of 9.00, pitching into the sixth in just one of those outings?
Hellickson helped put some of those questions to rest with his outing against the Angels, as he gave up four hits and two walks over 5.1 innings. He was mixing his pitches well, throwing his curveball to great effect and striking out four while throwing only 71 pitches in his outing. Even more important, he appeared to have regained his confidence, looking as though he truly feels he can get opposing hitters out again.
Perhaps the turning point of the night was in the second. After Wil Myers homered to give the Rays a 1-0 lead, Hellickson got into trouble in the bottom of the inning, putting runners on first and third with one out. One could see in his body language that Hellickson seemed to expect the worst. After falling behind Hank Conger 3-0, he battled back to get Conger to pop out to second, then stranded the runners by getting Luis Jimenez to ground into a force out.
From that point, Hellickson looked like a completely different pitcher, working effectively and seemingly channeling his 2011 and 2012 form. If he is able to finish out the season strong, that second inning may have been the difference. Getting Jeremy Hellickson back as the excellent pitcher he had been previously would be a major boost for the Rays down the stretch.