The Tampa Bay Rays announced before Sunday’s game that they had optioned Jeremy Hellickson to Double-A Montgomery to make room for Jake McGee‘s return from the paternity list. At first look, this move may seem confusing. After all, wasn’t Hellickson supposed to come back and boost the rotation? However, the move makes plenty of sense.
Thanks to the upcoming All-Star break that lasts from Monday to Thursday, an off day last Thursday, and two more off days the week after the All-Star break, the Rays have no need for a fifth starter until July 29th. The Rays could have carried Hellickson over that time and could have still used him as a starter, but what would have been the point? The Rays can use a 4-man rotation and still have every pitcher throw on regular rest. To keep Hellickson around, the Rays would have had to make a roster move elsewhere to accommodate McGee’s return. This would have either led to Kirby Yates being optioned or Erik Bedard being released. Those were both unnecessary moves when the Rays didn’t need Hellickson, so now they can hold off on either of those moves until they need a 5th starter again on July 29th. The Rays also get an extra reliever for the next two weeks- something that will be helpful.
Also important was making sure Hellickson retains a regular pitching schedule. Hellickson has only thrown 1 big league game this year and 6 minor league rehab starts after missing time due to offseason elbow surgery. He looked fine in his season debut with the Rays, but he still lacked some crispness on his stuff, and he struggled at points in his rehab. Rather than simply have him sit around and pitch on extended rest, the Rays elected to have Hellickson pitch on regular rest and continue to work himself back into full pitching form. Hellickson will likely make 2 starts before returning to the big league rotation, and that means he will be 2 more starts back into the swing of things.
In the end, this was the smartest move for the Rays to make. The only negative is that the Rays burned an option on Hellickson, and they won’t have that option to use in future years. However, there are multiple benefits of sending him down. The Rays can ensure all of their starters remain in as much of a regular routine as possible over the coming weeks, which will be especially beneficial for Hellickson. Also, the Rays can delay any decision on Bedard or Yates until Hellickson is needed in the big leagues again, and they can carry an extra reliever the next two weeks. This move was a no-brainer for the Rays.