Results tagged ‘ Jeremy Hellickson ’

Rays Sonnanstine Always Seems to Endure

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Tampa Bay Rays starter/reliever Andy Sonnanstine might not be the guy you first envisioned when you thought who might be the “last man standing” when the Rays begin their systematic Winter dissection of their 2010 bullpen. When you think of lasting elements in regards to the Rays Bullpen, honestly Sonnanstine was not the first name that crossed my mind. But he has been fighting that type of thinking his entire life as well as his professional career.


In a pre-2010 MLB season Rays Index Trade Pool contest, 3 out of 12 Rays Internet bloggers thought Sonnanstine would be the Rays top trade target during the season . I, can honestly tell you I was one of the trio who thought Sonny’s career might be outside the Rays circle of trust by this juncture of the Hot Stove season. Plenty of times I thought the Rays “sixth starter” would be dealt away to give himself a chance to again sustain a starting role instead of being pigeonholed into a long reliever role.

There are so many previously unseen twists and turns within starter/reliever/jack-of-all pitching trades Sonnanstine that you can see why he has survived to the end. Sonny is a proverbial human “onion” with so many multiple layers and talents within his overall skill set besides just throwing a round white sphere at a moderate velocity. Did you know that the Ohio native once actually worked as a pheasant hunt guide at the Hill and Dale Hunt Club in Medina, Ohio as well as being a great clay target shooter?

Then you peel away another layer of the onion to find out that the quiet Sonnanstine was also once a school janitor during his High School days.

Sonnanstine initially got on the Rays radar in another very unusual way. He originally was not a collegiate baseball player on the Rays scouting department’s radar in advance of the team picking him in the 13th Round of the 2004 MLB June Draft.

His Rays career might have never materialized if former Rays owner Vince Namoli had not witnessed Sonnanstine’s magic as the tall lanky right-hander handcuff Namiloi’s 5th ranked Norte Dame Fightin’ Irish baseball squad in a 2-1 upset in the opening round of the South Bend Regional of the NCAA Baseball Championship.


Did you know that Sonnanstine during his red-shirt Freshman year helped the Golden Flash defeat the number one ranked Georgia Tech squad sending them to their first loss of that season and posting the first win of Sonnanstine’s collegiate career. Even to this date, two of Kent State’s biggest baseball victories have Sonnanstine listed as the winning pitcher.

Recently another layer of the Sonny onion has been exposed as Sonnanstine will be inducted into the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL) Hall of Fame for his play during 2002 and 2003 with Sanford Mainers. Sonny will be joined by former 2004 Rays RP Mark Malaska along with current MLB players Chris Iannetta (C, Rockies), Andre Either (OF, Dodgers), former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent and Joe Consentino in a ceremony held on November 6, 2010 in Sanford, Maine.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved baseball,” Sonnanstine wrote in 2005 on attheyard.com, an online journal for professional baseball players. At the time, he was pitching for the Rays former Class-A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs. “I think I was four or so when I first picked up a baseball, and since then I’ve had a dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. Making that dream come true has been the biggest priority of my life“.


More and more you dig into the onion that is the life of this Rays player, the more interesting and intriguing experiences you seem to uncover. The fact that Sonnanstine does an off season Wii fitness program might not be too exciting or surprising to most people, but it is not the usual baseball themed regime, but a Yoga-based program to help with his overall flexibility and stamina while spending his off the field time with his faithful canine companion Murphy at his St. Pete Beach home.

We all immediately got to see a first sliver of the comedy side of Sonny’s onion during a Rays road trip in 2009 when the Rays pitcher organized a covert team wide prank on Rays rookie reliever Dale Thayer to have a little fun with Thayer’s 1970’s style facial hair. At a predetermined time during the game, the entire Rays bench and the bullpen both systematically pulled out a bushy moustache substitute and applied it to their face in homage to Thayer. It was a quick look into the creative mind of Sonny.

During the 2010 season, The Rays fans all got to collectively see more of Sonny’s inherent artistic talents as he was the main conspirator in the changing daily facades to the Rays upcoming promotional giveaway images plastered on the Tropicana Field Rightfield just beyond the Rays bullpen. His daily transformation of both the David Price and Matt Garza figures were always well received and recorded for their sheer attention to detail and overall humorous intent.

Little did most of us know that Sonnanstine actually had a bit of an MLB pedigree before the Rays drafted him out of Kent State. It seems that the Ohio natives great uncle on his mother’s side was former Cleveland Indian Third Baseman Ken Keltner who New York Yankee fans still curse as the guy who made two great defensive plays to end Joe DiMaggio’s 52-game hitting streak back on July 17,1941.

Sonnanstine also got to live a moment of Rays irony on September 1, 2010 when he was optioned because of a mysterious right foot contusion to the same short season Hudson Valley Renegades ( love it) club where he began his Rays career. The same franchise that once presented Sonny with their Pitcher of the Year award back in 2004.


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The Rays resident ping pong champion who was once referred to in the past as a “poor man’s Greg Maddux” has again defeated the odds and remains standing tall. During so many of the Rays previous seasons, the Rays right-hander has been the focus of countless trade rumors and opinions, but has always seemed to survive the cut and stay firmly planted within the Rays fold.


But the most defined peel of Sonny’s onion might be in his mental preparation and overall athletic ability that has even made Rays Manager Joe Maddon secure with a line-up card error. Back on May 17,2009 during a home start against the Cleveland Indians, an error on the game line-up card posted both Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist playing Third Base.

The mistake eliminated the Designated Hitter position from the Rays batting order and thrust Sonny into the third slot in the Rays line-up Sonnanstine rose to the occasion for his Rays teammates by going 1-for-3 with an RBI double, plus picked up the pitching win to add a double dose of misery to the Indians, who were Sonnanstine’s favorite team as a child growing up in Ohio.

Sonnanstine’s first trip in 2010 to the disabled list for a right hamstring injury threw the door wide open for the Rays to recall Rays top prospect Jeremy Hellickson to make his MLB debut against the Minnesota Twins on August 19th. Even with an injury, Sonny finds a way to help the Rays win games.

Maybe the guy who once spent his college years in a dormitory room at Kent State just beyond the statue that still bears the bullet hole from the Kent State Massacre (May, 4,1970) surely knows a thing or two about surviving, even in the Major Leagues.

Some people might be surprised to learn that Sonny is double-jointed in his right elbow, or about his in-game superstition of throwing numerous pieces of bubble gum to the masses in Section 140 of Tropicana Field during Rays home games. The recent Rays Bullpen purge is quickly turning into huge question mark for the Rays. Possibly Sonnanstine has the right stuff to remain and provide more than just an onion slice of consistency for the Rays Bullpen heading into 2011.
 
 

Did Shields Throw his Last Pitch for the Rays?

 

 

Sometimes we have to do things we do not like in life. Sometimes the idealisms and good things we have collectively done in our lives really do only amount to a hill of beans. With baseball becoming more of a business and streamlined industry every season, sometimes even the good guys can lose out because of one inconsistent season. There is one member of the Tampa Bay Rays who might have a interesting Winter, and possibly be venturing into another clubhouse this Spring.


We are not talking about Carl Crawford, Rafael Soriano, or even Joaquin Benoit. Even though he is a pitcher, his worth to this Rays team can be measured in many variations, but also his 2010 statistics show a decline not witnessed before in his short Rays career. With talent like Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson and the rest of the Rays farmhands knocking at the Rays backdoor, James Shields might find himself the odd man out by the end of the Winter.

This is the time you start to hoist up a starter like Shields and see who take long glances or inquires deeply on his tenure with the Rays. This is the time you take small meetings and discuss the future without or without the Rays Opening Day starter for the last three seasons. Just because you were a vital cog on Opening Day three years straight doesn’t mean you are invincible or “off limits”. Rays team tenure doesn’t really mean that much on this young squad, it only means you have been here a while.

 

It doesn’t matter in the long run that Shields was the 2009 and 2010 Roberto Clemente recipient for the Rays, or that you designed your own T-shirt as a Rays fan giveaway. It doesn’t matter that you are the oldest member of one of the youngest rotations in the Major Leagues. In the end it just comes down to if you still have enough value to possible get the Rays some of the pieces needed to formulate another winning line-up or Bullpen.


Shields has the past stats and the veteran leadership to command a good piece from a competitor in return for his services, and being signed already to a pretty low cost contract considering his experience, his value will ultimately be set by the top tier veterans who hit the Free Agent market. But with the earmarking of Shields even being considered as trade bait comes the reality that he might also be viewed as a questionable commodity considering his uncharacteristic sub par 2010 season.

Simply put, could Shields have already peaked as a pitcher and we are suddenly seeing his decent from the top tier of pitchers, or is he just not making adequate adjustments during the game that have seen his seasonal ERA climb from 3.56 in 2008 to balloon towards a 5.18 ERA fort his season. No one will question the heart of Shields as he ventured past the 200+ inning mark for the fourth straight season, but could it have come with a cost this season for Shields. Could his pitches have finally been charted and projected so well that now they seem routine or forced to the plate?

977.2 innings over a career is an incredible feat that so many other MLB quality pitchers’ wish they could count on their resume’. Combine that with a franchise high 56 victories and winning the Rays only World Series game, plus an added distinction of winning the Rays first playoff game (2008 ALDS Game 1), and you get a resume’ few can argue with around the Major Leagues. But even with those lofty accomplishments firmly within his grasp. Shields has also has some moment in 2010 that we all wish we could somehow forget.

What Rays Republic member can forget that Shields, as the eldest member at 28 in the Rays rotation gave us a few times where we all openly gasped at his lack of control at critical times this season. Currently Shield sis riding a 5-game losing streak all the way back to his September 4th loss in Baltimore 8-4 to the Orioles. Lost among that losing streak is the positives that Shield’s 853 innings pitched since 2007 is the 3rd most in the American League behind only starters’ Mariners Felix Hernandez (879.1) and Tigers Justin Verlander (867.0).

Even though Shields only missed the Rays strikeout lead by one single K to fellow starter David Price in 2010, Shields had 5 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, a career high. Shields strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.67 was the fourth best in the American League , but punctuated hard on his record was his 15 total losses, which also was a career high. Accenting this downward trend further is the fact Shields gave up 34 Home Runs, first in the American League and led the Major Leagues 128 runs allowed and 117 earned runs allowed while surrendering 246 hits, which tied him for the MLB lead with Chicago pitcher Mark Buehrle.

And odd point to Shield’s rollercoaster 2010 season, he was on the hill as the Rays starter for Oakland Athletic starter Dallas Braden’s perfect game on May 9th in Oakland, California. Shields last victory was August 29,2010 in Fenway Park against the Red Sox. Combine that with the fact Shields only logged 7-plus innings twice in his final 18 starts and you see a reason to wonder about the once solid Rays stalwart.

The last time Shield threw for 7-plus innings was his start against the Texas Rangers at Tropicana Field when he went exactly 7 innings and picked up the win in the Rays 8-6 victory. Shields left that contest with a 7-3 lead. For some reason Shields has gotten more predictable on the mound for the Rays. His change-up is still his mystery pitch, but with him starting to overload his throwing of it in key situations, hitters are beginning to adjust and wait on the slower pitch.

Even in fastball counts Shields has been relying more on his change-up to get him an advantage, but has instead just gotten a fresh ball from the Home Plate Umpire. Because of this, it makes Shields expendable for the first time in his MLB career. Even with one of the best change-ups in the Majors, Shields might have to re-evaluate the pitch in the off season and tweak it a bit to bring himself back to game form for 2011.

With his team friendly contract of several one-year options ( $ 4.25 million in 2011) there is the flexibility for another team to try Shields on for size without a long term commitment. With the Rays also seeing two of their other starters begin to reach past the million dollar mark in salary in 2011, it makes him more expendable because of salary than for his 6 Home Runs allowed to the Toronto Blue Jays in 4 innings of work back on August 7,2010. Funnier still is that Shields only gave up one more Home Run in his other 6 starts in August.

Maybe it is time the Rays break their ties with one of their senior members of their pitching staff. Possibly a change in scenery will do wonders to Shields refining his crispness on his pitches and finding another team that will value his devouring of innings. Right now With Hellickson and possibly Matt Moore sitting at the Rays backdoor looking for a spot and a chance to perform at this level, it puts a target squarely between Shields shoulder blades.

 

Suddenly it will be more about future potential than past accolades for Shields. More on the focus of the Rays upcoming 2011 business model than on his T-shirt endeavors. It will center squarely on whether it is time to cut ties with Shields, or try and ride his coattails for one last time hoping for a meteoric rise rather than a star fizzling out.


Shields is still a valued commodity around Major League Baseball that needs to be dealt to induce Rays farm talent a honest chance to rise to his once great level. It might just come down to the black and white on the page instead of the color and personality Shields brings to the Rays. Possibly we saw Shields exit his last Rays game during the ALCS never to wear the Rays sunburst again

Rays Best Non-Trade of the Season

 
 

Back earlier in 2010 when the Seattle Mariners put a “For Rent” sign squarely on the chest of starting pitcher Cliff Lee, the Tampa Bay Rays were quick to phone the Mariners and see just what they had to dangle in front of the seafaring squad to entice them to send the left-hander to another coastal town at the opposite end of the country.

The Rays were not in denial that it would only be a 3-month rental, possibly 4 at the most, and would have to probably give up some substantial player personnel to push this deal towards the finish line.

There were more than a few speculations that the Mariners wanted a pitcher in return who was already Major League ready, or currently on the Rays 25-man roster. There was also a good indicator that the Mariners would be wanting possibly two infielders, one from the Rays stable farm system, and then possibly another MLB ready candidate.


Whispers were prevalent that the Mariners were seeking Rays rookie Wade Davis or possibly Rays farmhand (at the time) Jeremy Hellickson as a first point on the triangle of talent to secure Lee’s services for the remainder of 2010. But Davis had begun to shown a more mature pitching style at that moment and was beginning to show his true colors and adaptability to Major League hitting when the deal was being considered.

Hellickson on the other hand has run into a few situations in his recent starts about that time and was still a very unproven MLB commodity. With neither of these Rays pitchers’ solidly in the chatter between the two teams, this discussion was over quicker than it started. But who else might have been on the wire for the Mariners to consider? What other MLB caliber players or possible Rays farmhands possibly would have been plucked to complete a trade of this magnitude?

 

Rumors abounded all over the stadium that the Mariners were more than eager to solidify their shortstop position, and their attention went immediately to Reid Brignac. The young Rays infielder had developed a more power infused hitting stroke, and his defensive play had made him a valuable asset to the Rays not only as a left-handed option, but as a cog that could be popped into positions all over the infield.


Ray farmhand Matt Sweeney, who was acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade in 2009 was also seen as a possible trade addition as a future third base option for the Mariners and might be a year or two out of the Major Leagues with the Mariners, but would have to change positions to get to the same level with the Rays because of 3-time All Star Evan Longoria standing in front of him on the Rays depth chart.

Word was also circulating that Leslie Anderson, the former Cuban National team member was also being scouted as a possible future Mariners option at first base with both current M’s Casey Kotchman and Russell Branyan being Free Agents in 2011. Options were plentiful, but the Rays also did not want to give up too much in MLB potential for a short rental property like Lee.

In the end, this possible trade came back to haunt the Rays as Lee eventually went to American League West divisional winner the Texas Rangers and solidified their pitching staff after a short adjustment period. During the post season, Lee has now extended his winning streak thanks to two remarkable performances again the Rays in Game 1 and Game 5 of the ALDS.
 
It is a bit ironic that the one pitching piece the Rays had sought to bolster up their rotation in the end helped to create the demise of the team that wanted to acquire him. Ultimately the left hand of Lee added to the Rays misery and their early departure in the ALDS, but they got to keep pieces of their farm system and team who could play major roles in 2011.

Hellickson and Davis should be key components for many years of a maturing Rays rotation and be two valuable right-handed options in the Rays pitching staff for at least the next 5 years. Reid Brignac could have developed enough in 2010 to possibly unseat incumbent Jason Bartlett and his possible 4.5 million 2011 salary and make Bartlett trade bait this off season/. Matt Sweeney is growing his power potential with every game he plays and should be a great power option possibly in late 2011 or 2012,possibly at Designated Hitter.


 

Anderson is going to play in the Arizona Fall League (Peoria Saguaros) to gather some more training and game experience with a possibility for a 2011 Spring Training invite to challenge for the Rays First Base position. All five of these players who were thought to be in the trade process between the Mariners and Rays for the limited services of Lee until the end of this season.


The Seattle and Rays management not liking the players pairings for Lee and then shutting off talks and then having the Mariners end up sending Lee to Texas might be one of the best deals this season for the Tampa Bay Rays. People argued at the Trade Deadline that the Rays might have been too picky or too silent and it cost us a chance to go deeper into the postseason.

In the end, the Rays front office’s strict guidelines for a substantial return on their short term investment in Lee might turn out to be their hidden gold mine by keeping their stockpile of young talent.
 

 
 

What is Your Favorite 2010 Rays Moment?

 


 

As I was waiting for the Tampa Bay Rays plane to arrive Sunday evening at St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport Rays game day emcee Rusty Kath was asking a few smaller Rays fans an important question for possible bobbleheads and assorted prizes. It was a simple question: “What was your biggest Rays moment in 2010?”


The question seemed so simple at first thought, but instantly there became a avalanche of special Rays moments throughout the season, including about 10 Rays moments that kept appearing again and again in my mind based on their place in the Rays scheme of things this season, and their importance to the overall Rays clinching their second American League East title in three seasons. And I guess the best place to start is in April and work our way back towards today.

 

April 6th

This was the Rays home opener against the Baltimore Orioles, and was set with pomp and circumstance normally associated with the first home game, but something felt different this year. It was not the two-colored flaming spirals in the Rays infield before the game, it was something brewing beneath the surface of this contest.

It was Carl Crawford’s eight consecutive Opening Day spot in the line-up, and possibly his last as a member of the Rays. But it was his play on the field that separated this day from any other this season.

Crawford sealed the Rays victory with a 2-run walk-off double that tore the feathers from the Orioles for a 4-3 loss. It was classic Crawford, and instantly this image came to mind as the reason I am going to miss C.C.


 

 April 17th

Was a special moment in Rays history as the day I truly began to believe that Rays closer Rafael Soriano was going to be something special in 2010. Not only did Soriano help save the Rays completion of the prior night’s suspended game, a 3-1 Rays victory. Soriano also got his second save of the day in the Rays 6-5 win in the high cap of the unexpected doubleheader . To win one game in Boston is a great thrill, to win back-to-back within 12 hours of each other is a moment to remember.


 

May 2nd 

This game evolved into a special home moment for the Rays Republic as Rays starter Wade Davis and Royals starter Zack Greinke both threw 7 scoreless innings each with Greinke only making one mistake. But that one mistake ended up being the only run scored in the ballgame when Greinke left up a fastball to Evan Longoria that he deposited in the Leftfield stands for a 1-0 Rays victory.


 

June 8th

This contest displayed the versatility of the Rays as a great offensive and pitching team as Rays starter Jeff Niemann 2-hit the Toronto Blue Jays in a 9-0 shutout of the birds at Tropicana Field. The night was highlighted by 2 Home Runs by Carlos Pena., one a Grand Slam. Niemann has his bid for a No-Hitter broken up in the top of the sixth inning by Toronto shortstop Mike McCoy.



 

June 19th

This road game during the InterLeague schedule will be remembered for a lot of reasons. First it was an away contest against the Florida Marlins in which 15,000 Marlin Air Horns tortured the Rays players eardrums for the entire contest. But it might have been the true signal that the Rays patience at the plate was beginning to return dividends as the Rays got 4 walks in the 11th inning, including 2 with the bases loaded to secure a 9-8 win.


It was also the night that saw the debut of Rays usual starter James Shields as he came in for one scoreless innings of relief and picked up the win on this night. Rays reliever Andy Sonnanstine also got his first Major League Baseball save on this especially extra noisy night (I am bringing my Marlins Air Horn to Game 1 of the ALDS tomorrow).

 

July 26th

This date will probably be set in stone by many among the Rays Republic as the most important night in Rays pitching history. On this night, Rays starter Matt Garza produced the Rays first No-Hitter against the Detroit Tigers. More amazing was the fact Garza and Detroit starter Max Scherzer were trading No-No bids until Rays slugger Matt Joyce hit a Grand Slam to provide the needed punch to seal Graza’s gem.


Garza threw 120 pitches on the night with 6 strikeouts and one lone walk to Tigers Rightfielder Brian Boesch in the second inning to eclipse the chance for a Perfect Game. The entire night Garza seemed on a different plane and was constantly bombarding the strike zone pushing 80 of his 120 pitches across the plate for strikes.

 

August 1st

This extremely exciting Sunday afternoon game against the New York Yankees where Alex Rodriguez was still hunting for his 600th career Home Run. He did not start in the contest, but came on as a pinch hitter and was struck out looking to end the 7th inning by Rays starter James Shields. It also signaled the coming drama between the Yankees and the Rays as the Rays pulled within one game of the Yankees after this 3-0 victory at Tropicana Field.


 

August 10th

During this road game start the Rays Republic got to see some of the immediate future for the Rays on the mound. Rays rookie Jeremy Hellickson took the mound in this contest at Comerica Park against the Detroit Tigers and gave up a lead-off hit to Austin Jackson before he then retired 18 straight Tiger hitters enroute to his second straight Rays win. Hellickson threw 7 inning and got 7 strikeouts and the Rays countered by getting 8 runs on 9 hits, including 4 doubles, to defeat the Tigers 8-0.


 

August 28th

This game was the contest at Tropicana Field against the Boston Red Sox that saw both Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria flirt with a possible cycle in the same game. It was also the game that B J Upton hit a tying Home Run in the 8th inning, then Dan Johnson hit a walk-off Home Run that pushed the visiting Red Sox to 5 ½ games behind the Rays for the American League Wild Card. It signaled the beginning of the end for the Boston club as they never got closer than 5 ½ game again to the Rays in 2010.


 

September 13th

In this premier contest we saw two of the American League’s best left-hander going against each other to try and prop each other up as favorite for the 2010 American League Cy Young candidate. Both Yankee starter C C Sabathia and Rays starter David Price traded zeros for 8 innings each before each left the ballgame.

It wasn’t until the bottom of the 11th inning when pinch hitter Reid Brignac sent a solos shot into the Rightfield stands that either teams blinked in this 1-0 walk-off victory.


So there are 10 possible candidates for my greatest moment in Rays 2010 history. I truly think Garza’s No-Hitter is the top pitching moment of 2010, but as a team, there is still another moment I truly feel has to be added to this list.

October 3rd, might be the biggest team based moment of 2010. As a team the Rays stood solid and would not break after going down early to a 2-0 deficit. With the bases loaded, Rays reliever Chad Qualls got a well deserved double play ball that got the Rays out of the inning without further damage.


The Rays ended up scrapping together an impressive top of the 9th inning rally when pinch hitter Rocco Baldelli single to leftifield, then stole second base ( his 1st SB of 2010). Rays catcher Kelly Shoppach then put down a great ball down the Third Baseline that Royals Third Baseman Wilson Betemit misfired a throw to First Base for an error and Baldelli scampered in to score. Rafael Soriano then converted his 45th save of the season as 8 Rays pitchers combined for the 3-2 victory.

 

The win cemented the Rays clinch of the 2010 American League East title with an exclamation point needed going into the playoffs instead of question marks. The victory solidly put all discussion to bed that the Rays backed into the post season as A L Champs, plus gave the Rays Home field Advantage throughout the American League segment of the post season. 

The gutsy extra inning win completely embodies the Rays mantra of “WIN- What’s Important Now”. It also helped send the Rays homeward so they could host the Texas Rangers instead of travel straight to Minnesota to begin the American League Divisional Series tomorrow afternoon.


Those are my special Rays moments of 2010 so far. With the post season about to get into full swing in 24 hours, possibly more fantastic Rays moments could be added to this list before the Rays take their last at bats, or final place in the field in the 2010 Playoffs.

Hopefully I have 3 more champagne celebrations to cover, and a parade downtown to photograph. The time is upon us for greatness to arrive. It is time to show the rest of the country what Rays Republic fans have known all season long, it is never over against the Rays until that last Umpire’s call.

 
 
 
 
 

Can You pick Potential over Experience Right Now?

 


 

During Spring Training this season the Tampa Bay Rays starters boasted about possibly having a 1,000 inning staff. One where each member of the five man rotation could possible toss 200 innings by themselves. Even in speech, this seemed like a far fetched adventure at best. But could their 1,000 inning goal actually have cost these starters some of their effectiveness and possibly one of them a solid spot on the Rays post season roster?


As of today (Saturday, October 2) the combined innings total of all five of the Rays original 2010 starters is 950.1 innings, a bit short of their proposed 1,000 inning adventure. Three of the Rays starters did post above 200+ innings this season, James Shields (207.2), Matt Garza (204.2) and David Price (203.2). Impressive numbers by execution, but at what cost would this bold pitching bravado cost the Rays?

Simply, it might have cost them a American League East title. Yesterday I wrote about 3 wins could have kept the drama and suspense out of this weekend, but in reality, if this Rays starting staff had won a single game each over the year, the celebration during the home stand would have been a two-night extravaganza. But that is hindsight, a lost opportunity to seal their deal before this final weekend.

But now, as the Rays starters have basically thrown their last pitches of the 2010 regular season, you have to wonder who might be either shut down or sent to a possible long reliever role in the Rays Bullpen for the post season. I have a guess on who might have thrown their last pitch this season, but I will keep you in your own suspense until the end. One thing is for sure, when the Rays shut down Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann for a brief time in 2010, it provided another interesting fold in the Rays pitching saga.

 

During that short period of time, one Rays pitcher seemed to gain some strength and control in the time off, while another simply seemed to go South in his location and command and is just now starting to recover. Davis, a solid A L Rookie of the Year candidate as a pitcher is currently leading the A L Rookie class in several categories and looks like the pitcher to beat. Davis will probably not win the award, but his solid year shows he was the right pitcher to hold onto while the Rays sent Mitch Talbot to Cleveland in 2009.


But then you have a sorted drama of Niemann over the last few months where you never knew what kind of pitching performance you were going to get on a given night. But the Tall Texan did finally find a level of consistency over the last few starts that might garner him a chance to pitch in the post season, but not sure if it is from the Bullpen or a fourth spot in the Rays condensed rotation yet. We already know three names that will be included as starters in the Rays post season package.

Instantly you know that Garza, Price and Davis have shown not only the goods to pitch in the post season, but the control and the ability together solid outs when needed. But from there it gets a bit tricky to me. Maybe it is because we have relied on this one pitcher for so long, and now I am not even sure he did not throw his last game ever as a Ray last night.

 

James Shields has gone in my mind from “Big Game James” to “What (a) Shame James” in his past three starts. Something is wrong here, not sure if it is three straight seasons of over 200+ innings finally got to his arm, or if the Rays oldest starter just finally ran out of tricks in his assorted pitching bag and has no more deviations in his pitching right now. And this is the guy you always counted on for the big wins or the great outing, and now I am not even sure I can count on him for a relief appearance.


Some have said that “Shields is just unlucky right now, and that his stuff will come back in time“. There is a small phrase in there that gets me worried, “in Time“. I really think that right now the Rays do not have the “time” to play and hope that Shields will rebound and get his mojo back on the mound. We are down to a point where each start has to be a quality start, or a potential series and a early trip home is in the balance.

During the post season, the Rays can not send a question mark to the mound, they have to send an exclamation point to the hill this post season. The Rays can not shade their bets by banking on Shields past, they have to look at his present state and wonder if he has anything left in the tank to propel the Rays skywards instead of into the dark abyss. Last night’s dismal outing showed that team’s have figured Shields out. That they are sitting on that once silky smooth change-up and pounding it with all their might.

Sure Shields is still gambling and mixing up his pitches, but his fastball and curveball are all hittable recently, that leaves guys sitting on his bankable pitch, the change-up and they are driving it all over the ballpark right now. This doesn’t mean Shields is done as a Rays starter, but the Rays have to make a tough decision this off season as to a spot for Jeremy Hellickson, and right now Shields and his $ 4.25 million reasons makes him an odd man out if the team needs to find a tradable commodity to get “Hellboy” a rotation spot.


Even with Neimann hitting a rough patch late in the 2010 season, Niemann is still under team control for a bit while Shields is hitting the big money portion of his contract. In a time of fiscal response and lowering the payroll, Shields has a target directly on his wallet right now, and he can be considered the definite odd man out. But the bad news might not end there for Shields.

Rays Manager Joe Maddon and Rays Pitching Coach Jim Hickey might have to dialogue long and hard over the next few days to come to a concrete decision on if Shield has enough stuff to contribute in the American League Divisional Series. They Rays will need at least a 3-man, and possibly a 4-man rotation going into the ALDS. That could lead to a tough decision on if Niemann or Shields gives you the best possible chance to win and garner an advantage if either was sent to the Rays Bullpen.

If I had to make that decision right now, it would be Niemann. And it has nothing to do with the past accolades or even future potential. I just think Shields needs to take a step back and rest, relax and gain control of his pitching and himself right now. This doesn’t mean he can not be added to the American League Championship Series if the Rays advance, but right now, a rested Shields is a future asset for the Rays. The current Shields model just looks tired and run into the ground hard.

The past few weeks we have seen some horrendous and some fantastic pitching performances come from the Rays staff. It has me scratching my head a bit as to the extent of why we are failing right now. Every pitcher on the Rays staff from starter to bullpen is tired and have a few aches and pains, but could the bravado of the Rays wanting to post a 1,000 inning season by its top five starters actually have been their late season downfall?


A few of the Rays starters still have that zip to their pitches, another is finding his way back, and yet another has seen his stuff go from unpredictable to constantly looking backwards, then receiving a fresh ball from the Umpire. Garza and Price have been impressive and unyielding to the opposition at times this season. Davis has established his claim as a future solid member of this Rays rotation. Niemann is getting back into his groove while Shields might be fighting a more internal battle than an external one right now.
 
The time is now for the tough decisions on either Shields or Niemann. One was a member of the 2008 post season Rays Bullpen, and the other got his first MLB taste as a reliever against the Florida Marlins this Summer. The choice will be difficult, the choice could be costly, but most of all the choice could signal a change in the Rays pitching hierarchy. Do you go with the wily veteran currently having some issues, or do you rely on the young gun who has been consistent all year? Glad I am not a Rays staffer right now.

Could September Soreness be effecting the Rays?

 
 
Chris O’Meara/AP

“Dead arm” syndrome, “September soreness”, those are just a few of the titles of the turmoil that is beginning to get a tighter grip on the Rays rotation and Bullpen. And it could not come at a worst time. With the Rays magical number now dwindling down to “10”, this is one of the worst times for your pitching staff to be experiencing any symptoms or even effects of the long Major League Baseball season.


The Rays already saw two of their rotation mates, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann go down for a period of time this season to try and rehabilitate the aliments without a long lay-off. So far the rest and relaxation technique seemed to work some wonders with Davis, but Niemann has last a bit of his stuff in the process.

Before his soreness, Niemann was considered one of the most consistent pitchers on the Rays staff, but since his return he looks a bit bewildered and astonished at his lack of control. Since his return, it has also sometimes seemed like Niemann is shot putting the ball to the plate, or even just trying to place the ball in a quadrant instead of his usual throwing motion. Niemann has gone from a consistent member of the Rays to a question mark right now.

And that does not bode well for the Rays, who will need a fourth starter in place before the playoff begin in a few weeks. This doesn’t mean Niemann is out of the running, but if he keeps up his inconsistent starts, he might just be shut down by the Rays and possibly left off the post season first roster for the American League Divisional Series (ALDS). That would give the Rays the option of letting him rest a bit more, do some side work and possibly be activated before the team has to submit their names for the American League Championship Series(ALCS).

Rob Carr/AP

And with Davis coming out of his time on the Disabled List throwing some of the best ball of the year, he might be the beneficiary of possibly getting that fourth slot. And for all the grip and grumbling Davis has taken for not being as consistent as the Rays other four pitchers, Davis is the only qualifying pitcher among the American League rookies with double digit wins (12). Only Baltimore’s rookie Brian Matusz (122) has more strikeouts than Davis (104). For all of Davis’s possible bouts of rollercoaster outings, he has been able to maintain a pretty impressive end result under the radar.

But Davis and Niemann are the only pitchers the Rays have acknowledged are experiencing soreness, while starter Matt Garza has shown signs of definite problems on the mound, but it seems the Rays are willing to let him sort it out on the mound and not on the bench. James Shields frustrations over the past month could also be a small bout of pain caused by a bit of overwork considering he has topped 200+ innings over the past two season, and maybe his arm finally has reached his limit right now.

The lone member not to show any adverse signs of the fatigue and demand of the long season right now is David Price. He has looked consistent and actually seems to have strengthened a bit as the innings pile up this season. But the aliment can come on quickly, and are the Rays throwing the dice right now hoping that Price doesn’t hit his limit before the Rays secure their second post season berth.

To have Price excluded from the playoff roster even for one series could be disastrous. But with the team possibly having to go with their usual starting five up until possibly their last week of the season, when could the Rays rest Price?


 

And suddenly, a few members of the Rays Bullpen have also started to show a bit of signs of fatigue and dead arms of their own. Over his past two appearances Dan Wheeler, who has usually been one of the consistent cogs in the Rays late inning machine has given up Home Runs, and also contributed towards two Rays losses. Could Wheeler have hit the proverbial wall this season after being a consistent piece of the puzzle for so long.

Over the last 7 days Wheeler has appeared in 3 contests, last 1 innings and posted a 18.00 ERA. That is not the signs of a consistent set-up man, but could be an indication Wheeler is feeling some fatigue right now.


You have to also wonder if Joaquin Benoit might be about to hit his own fatigue wall. Benoit made a miraculous comeback this season after surgery to pace this Rays Bullpen along with Wheeler for so long, but could his limits also being coming soon? For most of the season his ERA stayed below the 1.00 mark, but recently it has been pushed up to the 1.46 Era mark. This is not to say he is experiencing any fatigue, and is a key component of the Rays late inning brigade. Should Benoit also maybe be used sparingly over the last 15 games, or throw caution to the wind and hope for the best?

It is admirable that Shields and Garza are trying to fight the good fight on the mound and get through this without causing strife in the Rays rotation. But could their problems on the mound actually be causing a rippling effect through the pitching staff? We know that the minute the Rays secure their post season invitation the fans will see more of Andy Sonnanstine and possibly another pitcher (probably not Jeremy Hellickson) taking a start or two to give some of the usual starters, like Price a short breather.

 

But is it worth rolling the dice right now with the health and well being of your starters to get to that magical number plateau, then sit them down for the post season? And with that in mind, if the Rays do have to go late into the last week of the season with their primary starters, could that have been effected by this plague of “September soreness” and “Dead arm” syndrome? You can’t shut them all down right now, but can a shorter leash be attached for the rest of the season, or possibly we see a quick shutdown of the usual rotation after the Yankee series?

Could the Shields Era be Coming to an End Soon in Tampa Bay?

 

 
Chris O’Meara/AP

The number 55 can be symbolic to a number of people. We all know it is in the title of the song by musician Sammy Hager, “I Can’t Drive 55!”. We all know it was the posted National speed limit designated by huge signs along the nation’s Turnpikes and Interstates for a huge portion of our lives. Some gaming enthusiasts also know the number is associated with an astute “Call of Duty” clan of seasoned perfectionists who fight their battles on television screens everywhere.


The number “55” within the realm of the Tampa Bay Rays history books holds a very unique place, but it is also a dangerous place. Going into Monday’s night game against the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, the Rays would collectively bear witness to seeing the current Rays All-Time leader in victories, and Angels Starter, Scott Kazmir battle to preserve Kazmir’s weakening hold on the Rays All-Time career mark currently set at, you guessed it…55.

Kazmir will oppse the Rays in that contest against his former Rays teammate and friend, James Shields, and with a Shields win, Kazmir will have to acknowledge another part of his short legacy with the Rays will fall. It is extremely unusual for a pair of young guns like Kazmir and Shields to be fighting for the right to hold the Rays All-Time career mark. It does seems like such a low, low number, this “55”, but the solid reality is that life as a Rays pitcher does not always have a solid foundation or expanding future.

There can be several reasons for this, but the biggest is simply that the dollar signs sometimes makes a Rays pitcher a trade commodity way before his pitching expiration date. Recently, Shields has begun to hear the increasing mumbles and ground level grumbles around the Rays ballpark that he might be nearing the ultimate end of his long reign as the Rays King atop the Rays rotation. We soon forget as Rays fans, just how fast and short the escalation of the pitching exiting process here in Tampa Bay.

For a firm illustration of past quick exodus of the Rays winning pitchers’, you only have to look at the next four slots within the Rays career victories list to see former names of Rays pitchers like Victor Zambrano (35) Esteban Yan (26), and Albie Lopez (26) to show the Rays have not held onto their pitching stars for very long. Zambrano was traded for Kazmir, but when Zambrano left the Rays, he was the team’s career leader in victories.

Funniest part is that Shields is not even the highest paid pitcher currently on the Rays roster. That designation goes to teammates Rafael Soriano ($7.25 million), Dan Wheeler ($ 3.5 million) and fellow starter Matt Garza ($3.35 million). Shields will jump to $ 4.5 million for the 2011 and be in the current Top four of the returning members of the Rays roster. That high salary by itself could become Shields downfall. Sonnanstine (29 wins) who trails Shields in the Rays active victory tour will only see his salary rise to possibly $ 1.5 million due to his first stint at salary arbitration.

 

But it might be another Rays teammate that makes Shields expendable. Garza’s estimated salary arbitration has him garnering a possible $ 5.25 million salary for 2011, and that total could send the Rays searching high and low for a team willing to take on Shield’s and his 2011 salary. In 2011, Shields could find himself just like Kazmir, on the outside looking in at the next wave of Rays pitchers who will strive to take his name off the Rays pitching mantle. Shields has also not done himself any favors recently with some of his erratic pitching, and clouds of doubt have begun to fly all around the stands as to Shield’s effectiveness.


Surely the pitcher who has logged over 200+innings over the last two years and has been one of the only Rays pitchers’ not to go down for the count on the DL will be spared from this worry. But can the Rays gamble that same level of consistent return again in 2011? On the positive side of the equation right now is two solid performances where Shields won twice, plus he logged 7+ innings for just the second time this season. Maybe Shields had a bit of a dead arm and instead of complaining he fought through it and has gone 5-2 now over his last 7 starts. The signs are there that Shields might have found his second wind in 2010 and that we should not count him out…just yet.

Still stuck firmly in the back of my mind was that horrendous day in Toronto when Shields surrendered 6 Home Runs, becoming only the third pitcher to produce this type of hurling disaster in the last 70 years. Even though Shields did push some of the blame on himself for the debacle, Shields also tossed his young catcher, John Jaso firmly under the buses’ wheels and pushed a mountain load of the blame firmly towards his catcher and his play calling. That was uncharacteristic of Shields, and might have been a defense mechanism, but it was still an ugly side of Shields the Rays had never seen surface before. If Shields felt that way on the mound on that horrendous day, why didn’t he shake off Jaso’s signs?

 
Elaine Thompson/AP

That one instance doesn’t make Shields expendable, but the rubber arm and his consistency will come to a crashing end in the future. Will the Rays take the gamble and roll the dice with Shields, or will another starter who is waiting in the Rays system like Jeremy Hellickson take his turn in the Rays merry-go-round. If the Rays moved Shields this off season, it would save up to $ 4.5 million the Rays could use to entice another offensive weapon to join the Rays for 2011. With Garza also getting a substantial pay raise through arbitration, the Rays (after Garza’s salary) could effectively only have to spend around $2.525 million for their other four possible starters (David Price, Jeff Niemann, Wade Davis, Jeremy Hellickson) in 2011.


That makes Shields very expendable, even with only the second highest starter’s salary on the team. We might be seeing the everlasting glow before the sunset of Shield’s time with the Rays. Considering Shields has already been here about 5 years, maybe his time has come for him to seek another opportunity elsewhere. Another interesting sidebar to last night’s game, Shields and Kazmir became only the second pair of former Rays Opening Day starters to meet in a Rays game.

Ironically, the first time this happened was when Kazmir met Oakland starter and former Ray Joe Kennedy back on May 5,2007 at Tropicana Field. Maybe it is time for Kazmir to pass that Rays torch to Shields and let him shine brightly before his Rays tenure begins to dim. But then again, that is what we have come to expect out of “Big Game”.
 

 

Could a Rotation 5.5 Scenario Work for the Rays?

 
 
We all know that Tampa Bay Rays prospect Jeremy Hellickson’s name has been on the lips and minds of most MLB Fantasy baseball owners right now. I can admit he is on three of my teams, but what happens now? Most of us who roam the highways and byways of the Rays Republic know that Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been more than adamant about wanting to pamper Hellickson’s first journey up in the big leagues and Hellickson will be headed to the Rays Bullpen after his next start (Friday in Oakland ).

His next start will also correspond within a few days of the possible timeline for Rays pitchers Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis to come back from their recent shoulder stiffness vacation. With the Rays usual starting five then back into the swing of things, Hellickson will be free to free lance or get some spot duty here and there for the Rays. Maybe we can devise a roation 5.5 scenario and effectively use this hot young arm to the Rays rotation’s advantage through the final 46 games? 

Most people have the assumption that Hellickson will do mostly relief duty through the rest of the Rays 2010 season, pretty much exactly what David Price provided for the Rays in 2008. But I have another idea. I have something that just might be a perfect 5.5 scenario of attack the Rays could employ during the rest of the season.


Why not just let Hellickson take at least one spot start from the top three Rays starters during the rest of the 2010 season, plus one of the four games against the New York Yankees in September in New York to give the Rays starting five a short breather. It would give the Rays pitcher with the hottest arm right now a chance to gain momentum, confidence and also provide a alternative in-house to stave off any dead arm syndrome or possible long term injury.
 
With at least a pair of the Rays starters  currently showing a bit of late inning strain on their tired arms, it would be a possible 6-8 innings of work saved on their arms going into the stretch run of the season…and beyond. W
ithin the next few starts, if it seems that Price will not be able to hit that heralded 20-win mark, it would be a great time to even set down the mighty leftie for a game to also save his arm for the Playoff run.

 

This is not a 6-man rotation idea, but something I like to call rotation 5.5, where Hellickson can use his hot arm, plus give some added relief to the guys who have been grinding it out every five days all year long. Of course, this would depend on the match-ups provided by the opposition, but right now the finesse pitching of Hellickson could adapt well opposite almost any pitcher in the Major Leagues.


It’s just a thought. A rambling of my brain cells that tells me this could work in a perfect crescendo of pitching performances for the Rays. Hellickson has been groomed as a starter, and a small segment of his time can be used for relief, but you really have to be cautious when you fool with a pitcher’s mindset going from a starter’s mentality to the every day grind of a reliever not knowing if he is playing, or watching that game. You only have to look to the Yankees and what has been done with Joba Chamberlain to see how quickly you can confuse and ruin a great pitcher.

if you can get Hellickson a few extra starts before his formal “coming out” party in Spring 2011,then it can only help the young Iowa native. With 46 games left to play, and 28 of those against teams playing .500 or better, it might be time to use the Durham secret weapon to its fullest. Sure there will be boasted bravado from any of the five Rays usual starters that they do not need a tag team pitching match-ups down the stretch, but the Rays have been playing a gambler’s hand for a long time with no huge setbacks and injuries on their starting pitching front.

 

Do you want to really tease with disaster when the prize is gleaming right in front of your eyes?  Hellickson could be a huge and key ingredient to how far the Rays go in the 2010 post season. Just like Price, he has the goods and the talent to help fortify the Rays in either the Bullpen or the rotation down the stretch. Even though Hellickson is now the first Rays pitcher to EVER go 3-0 in his first three starts, it is the poise and finesse he has shown both on and off the mound that make him a multi-functional weapon for the Rays.

No matter which way the team decides to use Hellickson over those next 46 games, you can expect Hellickson to want the ball, hit the mound throwing, and providing a chance for his team to succeed… a great mirror image of Price’s same role in 2008.
 

I Think Hellickson Needs a Moving Van

 
Duane Burelson/AP
You could see his dedication to his craft this Spring when he pitched with the “Big Club” until they optioned him to the minor league camp on March 15,2010. The kid had something special about him. He projects a shy and reserved side to him, but the minute he brushes up against that pitching rubber, Jeremy Hellickson is all about the game.

Most Rays Republic fans thought we might have to wait until September call-ups before we got another shot to see the kid named “Hell Boy” compete again at the highest level. But after last night’s performance, I am thinking the Rays might not be in any hurry to give him another ticket back to Durham, North Carolina. Hellickson last night became only the third pitcher since 1920 to post 7 innings in a game and allow less than 3 hits in his first two starts. Hellickson also joined the late Joe Kennedy (2001 ) as the only other Rays starter to ever post two “W’s” in his first two starts.

But if you had watched any of the Rays Spring Training outings by Hellickson, you already knew the kid had a great understanding of the pitching process, and had some of the best stuff in the minor leagues, but needed a little polishing around the edges. But if Hellickson can keep up his consistent performances, he might just have to have someone motor on up to Durham and get his stuff and bring it down to Tampa Bay permanently. Sure you might think his 1.29 ERA over these two starts will gets his biggest test on Sunday when Hellickson get a chance for three wins in a row against the surging Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. I have a feeling it isn’t in Hellickson’s pitching nature tot shy away from the big games.

All you have to do is go back in time briefly to the 2009 Triple-A Championship game in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma to see a perfect example of his high standards and commitment to his craft. Hellickson ended up throwing 5 scoreless innings and earning the Bobby Murcer trophy as the games Most Valuable Player. But maybe you only need to go as far as looking at his Durham stat sheet for 2010 to see that he is ready for the step up to the Major Leagues.
Since his first MLB start against the Minnesota Twins on August 2nd to tonight’s start, Hellickson was optioned back to Durham, but got a call-up just yesterday to replace former Bulls teammate Wade Davis who was experiencing shoulder stiffness and went on the 15-day DL for the Rays.

Even with not starting a single game in Triple-A since the beginning of August, Hellickson still leads the International League in wins ( 12 ), ERA (2.45) and strikeouts (123). Hellickson’s 12 wins is currently the second best win total in the minor league baseball system. And Hellickson has gotten great run support from his Bull’s teammates in his 30 starts over his past two Bulls seasons The Bulls have gone an impressive 22-5 over that span when Hellickson takes the mound.


 
Steve Nesius/AP
But what might be even more impressive is his consistency over his minor league career that has now transformed so well in his first two Major League starts. Over Hellickson’s minor league career, he has maintained 9.8 strikeouts per 9 innings, plus posting a career minor league record of 49-16 with a 2.66 ERA in 103 starts. And if you need to bolster his credentials up a little more, Baseball America in their mid-season Top 25 list, posted Hellickson as the fourth best prospect in the game right now and the top pitching prospect in all of baseball.

And all of that hinges on the huge upward curve in Hellickson’s maturation process this season that draws nothing but praise from Rays catcher John Jaso, who also caught many of Hellickson’s starts in 2009. Jaso told FSN Sports in-game commentator Todd Kalas that Hellickson was coming to him before the game and between innings trying to devise a set of pitching parameters for them both to join together on when he took the mound last night.

Here is a guy who was pitching only his second ever MLB game, and he is already starting to try a dictate and formulate an effective plan to get the upper hand on his competition. That also speaks very highly to the competitive nature and fire that burns deep within Hellickson to want to take control of some of the aspects of the game as such an early stage. But you would expect that maturity and confidence level from a guy who started for the Team USA squad at the 81st All Star Futures game in Anaheim, California. In that contest, Hellickson only pitcher two innings, but secured the win after a resounding 9-1 victory by his Team USA squad.

 

All this from a guy who only appeared in 2.2 inning this Spring for the Rays and, posted 9 strikeouts, no hit or runs allowed in his short time in the big league camp. But he made an immediate impression on the World Champions as he struck out both Yankee hitters Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira in his 2010 debut on March 5th in Tampa. All this from a guy Rays Republic fans have been itching to see up with the big club. And now that Hellickson is here, he is earning every letter and syllable of his persona Hellboy.


Right now Hellickson’s Rays future looks bright as the team might be able to keep him within their 25-man roster right up until the roster expand on September 1st. Not bad for a Des Moines, Iowa farmhand the Rays drafted in the fourth round out of Hoover High School in 2005. It has only taken 5 years for Hellickson to develop, mature and become the Rays next big thing. And if his career preparation plans are anything like his in-game plans, he is here to stay for along, long time.
 

Hellickson has the Right Stuff


 
Jeremy Robert Hellickson started his lone walk out of the Tampa Bay Rays dugout at 6:40 pm. Here was an emerging Rays player who on first impression, might look more like a college baseball player than a pitcher about to get his first taste of life at the Major League Level. As Hellickson approached the Tropicana Field outfield, you instantly wanted the lone figure to get larger in stature based on the folk tales and lore that had trickled down from North Carolina, about his pitching.

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.

14 members of the Hellickson clan had assembled just beyond the Checker’s Bullpen Café to watch as Jeremy readied for his first night in the Rays spotlight. Winning tonight would do nothing more than show he had the right stuff to be here.

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.

Hellickson’s performance would show why so many other organizations and scouting agencies coveted his right arm.

 

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.

 
Steve Nesius/AP

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.

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