PHOENIX — Tuesday night wasn't a total loss for Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson, as he did collect his first major-league hit, singling off shortstop Didi Gregorius' glove, and got the ball as a souvenir of the milestone moment.
But otherwise, Hellickson failed miserably in the 6-1 loss to the Diamondbacks, unable for the second straight start to get through the fifth inning.
"I feel good, my command is just a little off right now,'' Hellickson said. "It's pretty embarrassing to not be able to get through the fifth two games in a row. I've just got to move on and get 'em on Sunday.''
His rough outing for a tough start to what looks to be a challenging cross-country interleague road trip for the Rays, as they play the D'backs again tonight then go on to a weekend series against the red-hot Dodgers, who have a pair of aces, Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw, looming.
The loss, the third in their past five games, dropped the Rays to 66-46 and 1½ games behind the Red Sox in the American League East race.
With Alex Cobb and Matt Moore both working their way back from injuries to rejoin the rotation in the next eight to 14 days, the Rays seem to face what will be at least an interesting decision of sending rookie Chris Archer back to the minors for a few weeks or Roberto Hernandez to the bullpen and having to make room there for him. If Hellickson continues to struggle, he could give them something else to think about.
Manager Joe Maddon said the lack of command has been part of Hellickson's problem, but also that he is falling behind too often and thus throwing too many pitches (90 in 42/3 Tuesday, 92 in 41/3 on July 31 also against Arizona).
"We've got to get him a little more pitch efficient,'' Maddon said.
Hellickson, in his third full season with a 10-5, 4.77 record, has had a remarkably inconsistent year, winning only two of his first 11 starts while compiling a 5.61 ERA, then winning eight of his next 10 with a 3.17 ERA, and now posting back-to-back rough outings, allowing nine runs over nine innings total. (Also, he has walked 10 in his last 20 innings over four starts after walking only seven in 48 2/3 innings over his previous eight games.)
Tuesday, Hellickson allowed five runs on five hits, most damaging a three-run homer by Cody Ross. As troubling for Hellickson were three walks, as all three D'backs who got free passes ended up scoring. He put Paul Goldschmidt on to open the second, and Eric Chavez followed with an RBI double. Hellickson then walked the next batter, Aaron Hill, and gave up the three-run bomb to Ross. "I couldn't make a big pitch when I needed to,'' Hellickson said.
Hellickson got the first two outs of the fifth, and when he put Goldschmidt on again with his 90th pitch of the night, Maddon had seen enough.
"They were pretty patient, I have to attack a little better,'' Hellickson said. "I just didn't make very many good pitches.''
The Rays took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when Evan Longoria, feeling very much at home since he has been staying at his offseason house in Scottsdale and driving to the game, homered to left.
That was a positive sign for Longoria, who on Sunday had snapped an 0-for-19 streak that he admitted left him feeling like he was at rock-bottom.
"He looked really good,'' Maddon said. "He looks a lot more confident. He's going to be fine.''
But the Rays didn't do much else for the second straight start against Arizona lefty Wade Miley, who went seven strong innings, allowing the one run on five hits while striking out five, including former D-back Ryan Roberts three times. "He was good but we hit the ball a lot better tonight,'' Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky offensively. ... We had a lot of hard outs.''
Hellickson was hitless in his first three big-league at-bats, striking out twice. He grounded into a fielder's choice his first time up Tuesday, then singled. Though there was considerable chatter about it in the dugout at the time — "They went nuts,'' Maddon said - Hellickson didn't really have much to say about it.
"It doesnt really matter,'' he said. "We lost and that's really all that matters.''
Marc Topkin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_Rays.