Everything can change in one moment. The hottest team in the league can run into a wall and the team falling apart can suddenly find its way. Tuesday’s Rays-Rangers game showed the easiest way for that process to happen: a terrible start for one side leading to a momentum-building win for the other.
Ian Kinsler tagged Jeremy Hellickson‘s first-pitch fastball into the left field seats for a home run. But Hellickson retired the next six batters, seemingly finding a way to get himself together. Well, appearances can be deceiving. Hellickson walked Mitch Moreland on five pitches to begin the third inning before Leonys Martin gave teh Rangers runners at second and third with a double down the line. Kinsler then stayed back on a first-pitch curveball from Hellickson to lace a two-run single to give Texas a 3-0 lead. And then Hellickson left a fastball up to Elvis Andrus, so misplaced that even the light-hitting Andrus drilled it for a debillitating two-run home run. Hellickson at least finished his outing by retiring the final two batters he faced, providing hope that he can be better next time out. But that brief feel good moment aside, this performance by Hellickson was exceedingly hard to watch.
Hellickson’s fastball command simply was not there, and Hellickson failed to adjust until it was too late. Every baserunner he allowed aside from the Kinsler single came on a fastball. What Hellickson was going to have to do to survive this outing was rely heavily on his changeup and curveball. His changeup actually looked good in the game, going for a strike 9 of 13 times including all 3 of his swings-and-misses. Only in the at-bat to Moreland in which Hellickson started him with two changeups out of the zone did the changeup ever not do its job. But Hellickson didn’t strust the curveball at all, throwing just that one pitch to Kinsler at not any other time. Hellickson may have been trying to save it for the second time through the order, but it wasn’t working and he had to mix it in more. Hellickson got his outs in this game, specifically in those last two batters, when he pitched more off his secondary pitches. For the first four batters of the third inning, all of whom scored, Hellickson inexplicably threw 10 fastballs among his 13 pitches even as it wasn’t working at all. The final two batters, he made an adjustment, throwing 6 changeups and 5 fastballs, and the result was two straight outs. Since he has come back from his hiatus, Hellickson has seemed to look fine whenever his fastball command has been locked in but the same disaster he was before when he hasn’t been locating it as well. Good pitchers are able to overcome fastball command issues and find a way to battle. If Hellickson is going to become that type of pitcher, he has to trust his changeup and curveball more and realize that if something isn’t working, he has to change course immediately.
The Rays scored their only run in the third inning on a Jose Lobaton solo shot, but it seemed like they should have scored several more runs. No, it wasn’t a case of stranding tons of runners–they stranded just four in the game. Instead, it was a case of the hits simply not falling. After that terrible third inning, it seemed like the Rays were actually having better at-bats and making better contact than Texas. However, their line drives and hard groundballs ended up going right to a fielder while Texas’ groundballs and bloops went through holes. What’s the implication of that? Well, Hellickson’s tough start just about guaranteed that the Rangers were going to win this game. But the Rays’ offense was not as pitiful as the boxscore says it was, and if the Rays can just relax and understand that they were a victim by just as much bad luck as good pitching, and that with a fair shake in the fortune department next time out, they will be just fine. This loss was tough enough. The Rays can’t let it get in their heads and affect the next two games of the series and beyond.
The win for Texas ties them with the Rays atop the American League Wild Card standings with the Cleveland Indians just half a game back after beating the Royals 5-3. hris Archer will take on Derek Holland at 7:10 PM on Wednesday as the Rays hope to rebound from this game and reclaim their place atop the Wild Card.