SEATTLE — Sure, Jeremy Hellickson won the American League pitcher and rookie of the month awards for a sterling 4-1, 1.36 ERA run through his past five starts.
But that was so May.
Today Hellickson makes his first start of June, and in the bottom-line world of Major League Baseball, the hovering question is: What can he do next?
"I definitely want to keep doing what I'm doing," Hellickson said. "It's not something I think about that I won an award last month. But I look at it like those (first) two months are over, and it's time to start over again. But I definitely want to keep doing what I'm doing."
The key to Hellickson's success has been making more, and better, use of his fastball. And improving his command of it is something he has been working almost exclusively on during his between-starts bullpen sessions.
"I throw a lot of down and away fastballs; that's pretty much all I work on in the bullpen," he said. "It's one of those things that has to come around on its own, and I've got to work on staying on top of the ball a little bit more. … I've got to establish the fastball before I can throw anything else. If you establish the fastball it makes everything else a little easier."
This afternoon Hellickson takes the mound for the first time at Safeco Field, eager to see how he does given the spacious confines, and for the first time against the Mariners.
"It's a pitcher's park," he said. "I'm excited to get out there again and throw. They have a good lineup. We saw that (Thursday). I have to keep the ball down."
Hellickson is aware he has benefitted from the best run support in the majors — an average of nearly eight runs per nine innings pitched — though that could be tested given the Rays' recent offensive struggles.
Further research showed that Hellickson was the first American Leaguer to win the pitcher (or player) and rookie of the month awards at the same time in the 11 years both have been given out. The only other double winners were Ryan Braun (player/rookie) with Milwaukee in July 2007 and Dontrelle Willis with Florida in June 2003.