Last night, the Tampa Bay Rays welcomed James Shields back to Tropicana Field for his first start there as a visiting player. The results were not good for the Rays as they lost the game 6-0. It was the second time in five days that they suffered a blowout loss to an AL Central contender. After the last time, an 8-1 loss to the Detroit Tigers on July 3rd, the Rays rebounded to win three straight against Detroit and take the series. The Rays will hope for similar results here as they aim to keep their strong play going and continue to prove that they are still a contender in the American League East.
Starting tonight for the Rays is going to be Jeremy Hellickson in his season debut. He better be right at the top of his game from the start as he goes up against the Royals’ Jason Vargas, who enters the start with a strong 3.32 ERA. For Hellickson, he will take the mound for the first time since 2013 ALDS Game 4, and the Rays are looking forward to seeing what he can do. Hellickson’s arthroscopic elbow surgery took him out for more than half of the Rays’ season, but at the very least, it gave him a chance to clear his head and get a fresh start. Jeremy Hellickson was excellent for the Rays from 2012 to 2013, managing a 3.02 ERA in 366 innings pitched, and last season’s performance was less of a regression than a bizarre series of events. Out of nowhere, Hellickson lost the excellent command of his fastball and changeup that helped him achieve so much success. He had flashes when the command was there of being even more effective than before, but he simply could not put everything together for an extended period of time. Now he will get the chance to do just that as he reenters the Rays’ rotation.
One other storyline to watch for the Rays is Erik Bedard moving to the bullpen. He has been replaced by Hellickson in the rotation, but with Yunel Escobar still on disabled list, the Rays had an extra roster spot and elected to use it on him. Bedard gives the Rays a pitcher capable of proving length should Hellickson or any other start get knocked out early, and it is always nice to have a guy like that in your bullpen. David Price could also be traded, and the Rays could eventually need Bedard to start again. However, Bedard and Cesar Ramos are two similar pitchers in the same situation, and Escobar will eventually come back. Does keeping Bedard for now mean that the Rays don’t want to lose him, or is it just a temporary measure? In any event, the Rays hope that Bedard doesn’t get into the game tonight and that they get a strong performance from Hellickson. We know how good Hellickson can be, and it would be a further lift to this Tampa Bay Rays team that has been surging of late if he bolsters their rotation further.