Jeremy Hellickson appears to have taken a step back after pitching well so far this year as the Tampa Bay Rays lost 5 to 4 to the Baltimore Orioles. With the loss the Rays fell to 65-69 on the year.
The Rays were all over Bud Norris from the get-go. Desmond Jennings led the game off with his thirtieth double of the season, and he later scored on a Matt Joyce sac-fly. With an 0-2 count the resurgent Evan Longoria lined a fastball into the left-field seats, putting the Rays up two runs in the top of the first.
Hellickson gave both of those runs back to Baltimore in the bottom of the inning. He gave up a high-flying solo homer to Steve Pearce in the bottom of the inning, and Adam Jones stole home on a delayed first-and-third double-steal with Nelson Cruz running from first. Jose Molina made a good throw down to second (even if he seemed a little surprised) but then Yunel Escobar’s throw back was high (but probably catchable) and popped out of Molina’s mit. Jones would have been out with a good throw from Escobar.
In the 5th the Rays got to Norris again. Longo hit a sac-fly to center to score Ben Zobrist, and Joyce hustled to score all the way from first on a James Loney double down the left-field line. But yet again, Hellickson gavae these runs back. He loaded the bases in the fifth without recording an out. Luck, in this moment, was on his side when Nelson Cruz hit a missile directly at Escobar. Maddon had seen enough after 88 pitches through 4 and a third. With Jeff Beliveau new in the gam and facing a bases-loaded jam, Chris Davis grounded to Loney. He made a good throw to Escobar, but then Escobar threw without setting his feet and airmailed the ball at least five-feet away from anyone being able to catch it. Tie game; Yunel is pouting.
Escobar was sloppy with 4 throws through the first 5 innings, and it looks to me like he is not enjoying playing baseball at all right now. Not only has he not been hitting, but his defense (in particular his range at SS, and, tonight his throwing) is suffering. He also seems to be pouting an awful lot.
Hellickson certainly did not have a feel for his pitches, especially that notable changeup of his. He bounced a few in front of the plate and seemed to need to rely on his curveball in the early parts of the game to contrast with his fastball. Hellickson, the second-oldest of the Rays starting staff (and only younger than Alex Cobb by a few months), seems to be suffering the same problems as last year. Watching him, you get the feeling that if his fastball had only a few more MPH on it, or if it had some sort of movement, then Hellickson could be a very effective pitcher. But until he’s able to more consistently locate his change or his curve, then it seems like opposing hitters can wait on a lot of “get-me-over” 89-90 mph fastballs.
Baltimore took the lead in the 7th with Kirby Yates pitching when Cruz was driven home by J.J. Hardy. Cruz had doubled off of Yates earlier. And Hardy just managed to get enough of the ball to deposit it into right field. Zach Britton, once again, pitched a perfect ninth for the save.
The Rays will travel back to Tropicana Field to take on the Boston Red Sox on Friday starting at 7:10 ET.