KANSAS CITY — The conditions for Monday's makeup game against the Royals couldn't have been much different, the sunny 90-degree afternoon a stark contrast from the early May snowstorm that made the Rays return for this awkward one-game trip.
But when it came to the puzzling struggles of Jeremy Hellickson, it was more of the same.
Hellickson lasted 22/3 innings, matching the shortest start of his career, and allowed five runs in an 11-1 loss to the Royals in a near-empty Kauffman Stadium. The Rays' second straight defeat dropped them to 74-55 and 11/2 games behind idle Boston in the American League East, and it made them 1-6 against Kansas City this season.
"We're glad to be getting out of here," Ben Zobrist said. "We just can't catch a break here, or against them anywhere. I'm glad we're not playing them anymore this year."
Hellickson started three of those losses to Kansas City and has failed to go five innings in five of his past six outings (0-5, 9.00), the most recent rough stretch of his roller-coaster season.
"It's very frustrating when you go out there and don't give your team a chance to win at all," Hellickson said.
Manager Joe Maddon said the Rays are not used to seeing Hellickson like this, but Maddon will continue to give him a chance to right himself.
"We feel very confident about him," Maddon said. "It's just been difficult or exasperating to try to get him to get back where he had been. And we're turning over every stone trying to figure it out."
Maddon said he's been "racking my brain" trying to help Hellickson, poring over reports only to find out "there's nothing definitively different about him."
Hellickson doesn't have any answers, either. He feels physically fine and said Monday was actually the most consistent he has been with his command the past five starts.
The Royals didn't hit him very hard, with a few of the seven hits of the bloop variety, as well as an infield single. But he couldn't finish them off, as five of the hits came with two strikes and the Royals fouled off nine two-strike pitches.
Maddon said Hellickson's offspeed stuff wasn't as sharp. "Normally those aren't fouled off," Maddon said. "They're swing-and-miss on those pitches. That speaks to the fact something is a little bit off with Helly."
Rookie rightfielder Wil Myers also had an off day, with the former Royals prospect going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his return to Kansas City. "I just had a bad game," he said.
Maddon felt the Rays were victimized by a bad call in the fourth inning. Down 5-1, they had the bases loaded with two outs for David DeJesus, who was called out on strikes on a 3-and-2 pitch from Jeremy Guthrie. DeJesus felt the curveball was at his neck, so he argued. So did Maddon, who was ejected. "To reward a pitcher on a bad pitch in a crucial moment, I didn't like that," he said.
Hellickson doesn't like digging his team a hole like Monday, his shortest start since June 30, 2012, when he was hit in the leg by a line drive. But he believes he can emerge from this funk.
"I still feel good about myself, feel confident," Hellickson said. "There's a lot of games left."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]