The Rays really like Jeremy Hellickson‘s ability as a pitcher. Combining his fsatball with late life, his overbearing changeup, and a continuoulsy improving curveball, Hellickson has a chance to be a number two starter in the major leagues if everything comes together. This year, though, has seen Hellickson experience the opposite result. Seemingly unremitting struggles led to Hellickson getting demoted to the minor leagues to clear his head, and despite promising early returns in his first couple starts back , he could do nothing right in his third start. Joe Maddon‘s natural inclination is to stick with Hellickson and let him rebuild his confidence one game at a time. But what difference does it make when there is so little time for Hellickson to rebound. After just how inconsistent he has been, the risk of starting him and watching him fall apart outweighs the chances that he’ll turn himself around. The Rays have to rebuild Hellickson’s confidence, but that is something that should happen in the offseason, not as the Rays are fighting a playoff race. And with Hellickson struggling, the pitcher the Rays are set to turn to is Jake Odorizzi.
The Rays’ run of starting pitching injuries in May got Jake Odorizzi to the major leagues for his Rays debut. In just about any organization, he would have had a longer leash to stay. Odorizzi’s numbers at Triple-A have been outstanding as he has gone 9-6 with a 3.33 ERA, managing a 9.0 K/9, a 2.9 BB/9, and a 0.9 HR/9 in 22 starts and 124.1 innings pitched. In his last two major league starts, he was great as well, allowing just 2 runs on 9 hits across 10.2 innings against the Angels and Red Sox. Numbers can certainly be deceiving, especially in the small sample size that is those two MLB starts, but over the course of the season, Odorizzi has evolved significantly as a pitcher. He has altered his mechanics to improve his fastball command and his curveball and changeup continue to get better. Odorizzi was a top prospect in the Brewers and Royals organizations whose potential insidiously became less and less in the eyes of evaluators because his command and secondary pitches just never came along. However, since joining the Rays, Odorizzi has found a way to break through the walls that hadtrapped him for years and finally move towards becoming the above-average major league pitcher that was inside him all along.
Jake Odorizzi’s continued improvements have earned him the opportunity to compete for a spot in the Rays rotation spot immediately. Combine his breakthrough with Hellickson’s issues, and the perfect storm has arisen for Odorizzi to pitch meaningful games for the Rays in September. The biggest impact that Odorizzi could possibly make is winning a couple games for the Rays down the stretch, but that could make all the difference as the AL Wild Card race looks to end in a photo finish. Jeremy Hellickson is an issue for another time. Let’s get Jake Odorizzi on a mound and see what he can do.