By Tommy Rancel //
Jeremy Hellickson may have been an effective major league starter had he cracked the Tampa Bay Rays’ roster on Opening Day of this season. But where an April gig would have been a luxury, Hellickson’s promotion recently became a necessity.
The Rays had a plan for Hellickson. He made a spot start last week and was sent back down to Durham where his workload could be monitored and controlled. Once the rosters expanded in September, they would recall Hellickson and use him out of the bullpen.
Tampa Bay was able to execute the first part of the plan. Hellickson made his major league debut – a successful one – and was immediately returned to Triple-A. However, even the best-laid plans are subject to change. With Wade Davis AND Jeff Niemann experiencing shoulder pain, the Rays had no choice but to bring back Hellickson and use him as a starter, beginning with tonight’s outing against the Detroit Tigers.
Although he is listed at 6-1 – already on the short side for a right-handed starting pitcher – that might be a generous measurement. Still, the numbers don’t lie. In 578.2 career innings in the minors, he posted 630 strikeouts and just 135 walks. His pinpoint command of the strike zone has drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux. Stuff-wise, Hellickson sets hitters up with his low-to-mid-90s fastball, and puts them away with an excellent change-up and plus breaking ball.
This time around, Hellickson will be on the shortest of leashes. After pitching 114 innings last season, he has surpassed 124 innings this year (117 minor league, 7 major league). Hellickson pitched a career-high 152 innings in 2008. Don’t expect him to go much beyond that this year, if at all.
If that is the case, then we might be looking at five-to-seven big league starts, or possibly just a couple of starts and several relief appearances, if Davis and Niemann get well soon. Still, given Hellickson’s talent and body of work, he’s worth an immediate pickup in all leagues.
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