The Rays believe that Jeremy Hellickson can be an excellent pitcher again. They also seem to think his return to form could start as soon as tonight. Hellickson readily admists that he has done nothing to earn his Game 4 start. This year, he managed just a 5.17 ERA in 31 starts and 174 innings pitched, more than two runs higher than his 3.06 career ERA entering the season. There were some signs for continued optimism–he set a career-high in strikeout rate and a career-best in walk rate as well–but it did not matter as he just could never find his stride. All season, the Rays waited for him to break through and it never happened. They sent him to the minor leagues to clear his head and he had a couple solid appearances after coming back, but then he reverted to being just as bad as he was before. Hellickson has had a nightmare of a season and just cannot find a reprieve. Sometimes really good pitchers just have terrible luck–James Shields in 2010 comes to mind–and sometimes terrible luck can belie a pitcher beginning to crumble. Where does Hellickson stand?
In 2010, Joe Maddon gave Shields the Game 2 start despite just how much he had struggles all season (5.18 ERA). Hellickson’s road to starting with a 5.17 ERA is more sketchy. Matt Moore‘s struggles in Game 1 prompted Joe Maddon to utilize Chris Archer, and with Archer out of contention for the Game 4 start, Hellickson became the guy. But just because he is the starter does not mean he will last long. Archer has not pitched much and could be good for as many as three innings. Same story with Mooore as he already has three days’ rest under his belt. If Hellickson begins to struggle, Joe Maddon will not hesitate to take him out. It also serves to keep the expectations low: if Hellickson could give the Rays just four or five innings allowing zero or one runs, they would be ecstatic. Jeremy Hellickson doesn’t need to twirl a gem. He doesn’t even have to make himself eligible for the win. He just has to show everyone that there is still hope, both for him in the future and the Rays in this series.
. The Rays wholeheartedly believe in Jeremy Hellickson’s future. Just for one game, can he show everyone why? The Rays are placing their faith in Hellickson for this Game 4 start. They are not asking for anything crazy, but Hellickson needs to meet expectations or it will cost the Rays’ their season.