Jeremy Hellickson’s Playoff Role

By David Hill

Aug. 6, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA: Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (center) walks to the dugout after being pulled from the game in the fifth inning by manager Joe Maddon (left) against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

At the start of the season, it would have been assumed that if the Rays made the playoffs, Jeremy Hellickson would have played an important role in any postseason run the Rays would go on. Then, the 2013 season happened. Not only was Hellickson ineffective for most of the season, but he was even demoted to clear his head, something that would have been considered almost unfathomable at the start of the year.

Now, with the playoffs approaching, Hellickson’s role may be in doubt. Since most teams pare their rotation down to four starters in the postseason, it would seem as though Hellickson would be on the outside looking in. David Price, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and Chris Archer have all outperformed Hellickson this season, and Joe Maddon seemingly goes with players that he feels can help him win instead of basing decisions on tenure. Based on their performances this season, there may not be room for Hellickson in the rotation.

Could he be left off the postseason roster? Most teams do shorten the bullpen in the postseason, preferring to carry more bench options to pinch hit and as defensive replacements. With that being the case, those bullpen spots are even more precious than they would normally be in the regular season. Yet, one would have to think that Hellickson could have a role somewhere on the Rays postseason roster.

This brings us to the bullpen. At this point, five of the spots are seemingly secure. Wesley Wright may have an inside track on being the sixth reliever, leaving one spot in the bullpen seemingly up for grabs. At this point, it would seem as though that spot may be down to Hellickson, Roberto Hernandez, Jesse Crain, Cesar Ramos and Brandon Gomes. Each of the candidates have their issues. Ramos and Gomes have been relatively pedestrian this season. Hernandez, for a ground ball pitcher, has been quite prone to the home run ball, but has been solid out of the bullpen. However, he is very inconsistent, and likely cannot be counted on to be a viable option if needed. Crain has not pitched since being acquired by the Rays, and may not be ready enough to be an option that Maddon could trust.

As such, the bullpen may be Hellickson’s best chance at the postseason roster. Not only could he go out there and potentially keep the Rays in the game if a starter struggles early, but Hellickson could potentially emerge as the seventh inning option. Who would have thought that, at the start of the year, Hellickson may end up being a valued piece of the Rays bullpen during a playoff run?

Jeremy Hellickson may well prove to be a valued part of the Rays this postseason. it just may not be in the role that was imagined at the start of the year.