Is Jeremy Hellickson Pitching Himself Out of the Rays Rotation?

By David Hill

It has been a rough season for Jeremy Hellickson. Aside from a stretch from June 2nd through July 26th where he was 8-1 with a 3.17 ERA, Hellickson’s season has been a borderline disaster. Without those seven weeks, he has produced a 2-7 record with a 6.51 ERA. Not only are these numbers awful, but they are worse than such noted members of the pitching napalm fraternity as Roberto Hernandez, Joe Blanton and Edinson Volquez.

Aug 21, 2013; Baltimore, MD, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) throws in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday may have been the nadir of his season. Needing a strong start to help build some momentum, Hellickson turned in what may have been his worst start of the year, giving up five runs on seven hits in only 2.2 innings. At a time when Hellickson likely needed a positive outing for his own confidence, he turned in a truly abysmal performance.

While no one really expected Hellickson to pitch at the level he had in 2011 and 2012, this extreme of a step backwards was likely not expected. Thankfully for the Rays, Matt Moore and Alex Cobb have developed quicker than expected, and Chris Archer has turned into a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. These developments have certainly minimized the impact that Hellickson’s regression would have had on the rotation normally.

Yet, there is a question of how many more of these performances the Rays can realistically absorb. Running someone out there who has given them a minimal, at best, chance of a victory every fifth day is detrimental even to a team without playoff aspirations. For a team like the Rays, who find themselves embroiled in a battle not only for the American League East, but for the playoffs in general, running out a pitcher who has been worse than Blanton is likely not the best way to ensure a playoff spot.

The Rays have already shown that they are not afraid to jettison established pitchers if they do not perform up to expectations. Kyle Farnsworth was outright released and Hernandez was banished to the bullpen. If he continues to pitch at this level, then the Rays may not only need to find a replacement over the next month, but he could be in danger of losing his rotation spot in the playoffs, if he makes the postseason roster.

Jeremy Hellickson is likely not as bad as he has been this season. He is also likely not the pitcher of 2011 and 2012. However, Hellickson may need a strong finish to the year to solidify his spot on the postseason roster should the Rays make it that far, and to settle any doubts about his future that may be cropping up.