Is Jeremy Hellickson the Latest Injury-Prone Rays Starter?

By Robbie Knopf

From Scott Kazmir‘s quad strain that sidelined him in May of 2009 up until June of 2012, just one Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher hit the disabled list: Jeff Niemann. That’s it. The Rays found themselves a bevy of dependable starters, and that was one of the major reasons they won 90 games each year from 2011 to 2013 and look to continue that streak this season. 2013, however, was a totally different story. David Price had a triceps injury, Alex Cobb was hit by a line drive, and Matt Moore faced left elbow inflammation, and the trio combined for 144 days on the disabled list. It is a testament to the Rays’ pitching depth and the pitching of that trio when they were healthy that the Rays won the AL Wild Card nevertheless. With better luck in the health department, the Rays’ rotation could be even scarier this year. But the season hasn’t started yet and already the Rays’ staff confronts an injury. Jeremy Hellickson will be out until at least the middle of May after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow. And with this latest injury, it is time to start doubting whether Hellickson can hold up for an entire season as a big league starting pitcher.

It was Hellickson that broke the Rays’ string of health in June of 2012 when he missed two weeks with shoulder fatigue. But it was far from his first injury. In his junior year of high school back in 2004, Hellickson dealt with a fractured growth plate in his right shoulder, but the Rays and other teams were interested in his nonetheless, believing that his health would not be a long-term concern. Maybe they should have been a little more worried. Hellickson missed a month in April of 2007 with “right arm soreness” and then a month and a month from May to June of 2009 with a rotator cuff strain in his right shoulder. He then dealt with a hamstring strain in spring training of 2011, although that did not stop him from having his Rookie of the Year campaign. And now, he had the shoulder fatigue in 2012 and this elbow surgery in 2013. Hellickson has faced a series of injuries, and except for the hamstring strain, all of them are arm-related. That is certainly not a good sign. The good news is that Jeremy Hellickson has never undergone Tommy John Surgery. The bad news is that the past three years have opened up serious questions about his durability.

In his 2011 rookie year, Jeremy Hellickson threw 189 innings and looked primed to eat innings for the Rays for years to come. Instead, Hellickson has seen his innings totals decrease the last two years, and that streak will almost surely reach three years in a row. Can Hellickson get healthy as he moves past this injury and become a pitcher the Rays can rely on? We will simply have to wait and find out. The focus has been on Hellickson’s performance after his down year in 2013, but his injury history and lack of durability are just as concerning. Hellickson faces an uphill battle as he hopes to establish himself as a legitimate threat for 200 innings in a season, and at this point, he may never get there as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.