When Jeremy Hellickson made his first rehab start at Triple-A Durham, his Tampa Bay Rays teammates sat 13.5 games back in the AL East on the heels of 14 losses in their previous 16 games. They had firmly collapsed, and it appeared that their hopes at the playoff were over. Since then, however, everything has started to change. The Rays are an AL East-best 13-8, pulling to within 9.5 games in the division. They have plenty of work ahead of them, but now they know that they still have a chance. In the beginning, the Rays had no incentive to rush Jeremy Hellickson at all. Now, however, with Erik Bedard struggling and the team trying to win games, Hellickson has become more important than ever to their hopes. Finally, Hellickson is ready to rejoin the Rays’ rotation. The timing could not be any better.
In his last rehab outing for the Bulls, Hellickson went 5.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 7 hits, striking out 4 while walking 2. He didn’t dominate, but his stuff looked like normal and his surgically repaired elbow felt fine. The Rays can’t know for sure what Hellickson will be able to do when he returns–he hasn’t pitched since 2013 ALDS Game 3 and is coming off a disastrous season overall. However, Hellickson was an extremely valuable pitcher for them in 2011 and 2012, and there is reason for optimism that he can get back there. In 2013, Hellickson had his career-best strikeout and walk rates, but his season was derailed by poor command of his fastball and changeup. Now Hellickson gets a fresh start and an opportunity to move on from his previous issues.
Even if this great run by the Rays continues, it is very difficult to see the Tampa Bay Rays buying at the trade deadline. Instead, they will depend on the players they have returning from injury and see if they can provide the type of lift they are hoping for. Wil Myers and David DeJesus will eventually return, and Jerry Sands could provide a further spark off the bench. For now, though, Hellickson is the closest thing the Rays are going to get to a July acquisition, and he has the ability to make the Rays a better team. The Tampa Bay Rays have patiently awaited the return of Jeremy Hellickson. His chance to make up for 2013 is coming, and we will have to see how he can perform.