Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Curve rejoining Hellickson's arsenal

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon says RHPs Jeremy Hellickson, James Shields and Alex Cobb are all "cut from the same fastball, curveball, changeup cloth."

But Maddon believes they sometimes don't utilize their curveballs enough, which is why he was so pleased Hellickson went to it a lot in Saturday's strong start against the Orioles.

Hellickson picked up a hard-luck loss, allowing just one earned run over 6⅔ innings, but continued his impressive consistency. He has given up two earned runs or fewer in eight of his 11 starts this season.

And Maddon said Hellickson's curve could be a key to prolonging the streak.

"Jeremy has been outstanding," Maddon said. "He's been using his fastball a lot, and a lot of 92 (mph), and because of that I think it really sets up everything else. And now that he's reintroduced the curveball to the mix, I love it, because I think by doing that, that's going to enable him to sustain this kind of a run longer. It's a really good pitch."

Hellickson said he used 10-15 curveballs Saturday and "they all felt good." It was the most he has thrown the pitch recently, partly because it was consistent.

Hellickson made one main mistake, a "2-1 fastball right down the middle" to Endy Chavez, who ripped a solo homer in the third.

"I had command of everything, and I felt really good," Hellickson said. "I threw a lot of strikes and didn't get deep in a lot of counts."

ON TARGET: Maddon said not many players in the league have the arm strength to do what CF B.J. Upton did Friday night, making a throw from near the warning track to nail tagged-up Steve Tolleson at second base.

"It was spectacular," Maddon said.

Maddon said Upton, who is tied for the major-league lead with six outfield assists, has a better arm than last year.

"It looks like his arm stroke is better," Maddon said. "His release is better, the ball is coming out hotter. He looks like he did a couple years ago."

LEANING LEFT: OF Matt Joyce was feeling under the weather Saturday or he likely would have started against Orioles LHP Brian Matusz.

Maddon said Joyce will get more opportunities against left-handers, considering his improved approach against them recently. Joyce has seven hits in his past 20 at-bats against lefties after starting the season 4-for-27.

"Against left-handed pitchers right now he's doing a better job of swinging at strikes and taking balls like he does against the righties," Maddon said. "I think, in the past, he was really way ahead of left-handed offspeed pitches and then he'd take a fastball. I think he's got that rearranged."

MORE MOORE: LHP Matt Moore enters today's start encouraged by his last outing, when he gave up two earned runs over seven innings and struck out a season-high 10.

Moore said a key was not getting into a lot of deep counts — he walked just one — and "attacking every pitch."

But Moore has continued to struggle against left-handed hitters, who are batting .353 (18-for-51) against him, the highest mark against left-handed pitchers in the majors.

Moore said he's comfortable and confident facing lefties, but "there's probably been some situations where I get too behind those guys and would up having to serve something up."

Maddon said the numbers are an "aberration."

"It's a matter of location with his fastball, just to get it more consistently down and away," Maddon said. "And then starting to utilize his breaking pitch more against the lefty, which I don't think he has."

MINOR MATTERS: OF Desmond Jennings (left knee sprain) got the night off in his rehab assignment with Triple-A Durham but is expected to play for the Bulls today. He could rejoin the Rays Tuesday to start the Yankees series. … OF Brett Nommensen was promoted from Class A Charlotte to Double-A Montgomery, and OF Emeel Salem was released. … LHP J.P. Howell and OF Sam Fuld will sign autographs along the first-base line from noon-12:30 today.

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