We all knew the pitching accolades and the praise that proceeded him to Tropicana Field. His 2009 Rays Organizational Pitcher of the Year Award. The same player who won the Bobby Mercer Award as the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 Triple-A Championship. That during the 2010 Spring Training season, Hellickson amazed and tantalized us with visions of a future young Rays pitching staff that could envision all five starters amassing at least 10 wins.
It was said that Hellickson’s appearance tonight would be for only one start, and be a chance to benefit the Rays usual five starters by giving them a breather during the Rays current 20 games in 21 days stretch. But in reality it was another short peek at an important piece of the Rays future pitching puzzle. As Hellickson took the Rays Bullpen mound, his first pitch to Rays Bullpen Catcher Scott Cursi did not seem to have the force or the “pop” of the usual Major Leaguer. But it was Hellickson’s show now.
Eyes around the stadium began to focus towards the Rays Bullpen. Cameras and fans began to watch Hellickson’s mechanics, his grip on the baseball and especially the increasing speed and force of his pitches as Hellickson moved closer to his first pitch of the night. As his warm-up session progressed, Hellickson’s pitches got sharper, built up speed and right before his final pitch, a small smile appeared on that mound. The last pitch popped the glove of his catcher John Jaso, and you knew Hellickson was more than ready for the job in front of him tonight.
In the curve of the Bullpen Café, his cousin Joey Hellickson stood watching Jeremy warm up wearing the same red Team USA jersey that Hellickson’s wore for the 2010 MLB Future’s game in Anaheim, California during the All-Star game festivities. But not only Rays fans were proud to see Hellickson take the mound tonight.
Winning tonight would not garner him another chance to stride the hill this time, but could possibly open more potential chances come September. It was Hellickson’s moment on the mound tonight to finally show and acknowledge that his size and stature were not a measure of the abilities and heart that beat within him.
He showed the brilliance of a veteran pitcher on the mound tonight in taking back with him to Durham, his first Major League win. Over his seven innings last night, Hellickson scattered three hits and two runs to show the Rays ample reason why they have turned down trade after trade for the 22-year old right-hander. . Hellickson’s debut also featured him retiring the first 10 Twins hitters, the first time in five seasons that a American League rookie pitcher had performed the feat.
Sure Hellickson might have given up a Home Run to Jason Kubel in the sixth inning, but after that blast he retired the next five Twins hitters before Rays reliever Chad Qualls came on in the eighth inning. After his customary beer shower to celebrate his victory in his Major League debut, it was learned that the New York Yankees had lost their home game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Not only could Hellickson celebrate his win, but he also gave his Rays teammates the gift of again regaining at least a tie in the American League East. Even with his win tonight Hellickson will again pack his gear and board a plane in the morning to rejoin his Durham Bulls team on the road in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Hellickson will not leave the Rays Clubhouse tonight as the same player. He is now has confidently made his first appearance at the Major League level and gave his future fans cause to wait in anticipation for his return.
Hellickson has shown the Rays front office and staff that he is capable and ready to take the next step and contribute with confidence the next time the Rays call for his services. Hellickson gave all of us Rays fans just enough of a tasty pitching morsel last night that we are already salivating and anticipating his return again in the Rays uniform.