ST. PETERSBURG — Touted rookie rightfielder Wil Myers might have stolen the show Monday night, hitting a mammoth homer in his Tropicana Field debut.
But it was right-hander Jeremy Hellickson who set the tone in a 4-1 victory over the Blue Jays, pitching seven one-hit innings to cool baseball's hottest team.
Hellickson did match a season high with four walks, snapping his club record-matching streak of 26 innings without one. However, he had arguably his best start of the season, one that manager Joe Maddon said could put him over the top.
"He's getting better," Maddon said. "He's looking more like he's supposed to."
Maddon thought Hellickson (6-3) was going to have a good night after his first inning, when he struck out two of the three hitters he faced, locating his fastball and changeup down. "Classic example of what he can look like on a nightly basis," Maddon said. "It was spectacular to watch that."
Hellickson, who entered the game with the American League's highest ERA (5.50) among qualified starters, has been prone to big innings. But he made big pitches Monday, getting out of a first-and-third, one-out situation in the second by inducing a 3-6-3 double play. "Pretty big moment right there," Maddon said.
"The balls that I left over the plate didn't hurt me … and like I said, we made a ton of good plays out there," Hellickson said. "It's not fun to give up the big inning, especially when the guys are scoring runs for me. So it was definitely nice to limit the damage."
Maddon, sensing it wasn't a complete-game kind of night for Hellickson, pulled him after seven innings and 96 pitches. And after striking out his final hitter, J.P. Arencibia, Hellickson slapped his glove in a rare display of emotion.
"When I shook his hand at the conclusion of the game in the dugout, he had that satisfied look," Maddon said. "That felt good, that's what it's supposed to look like. I really believe you can see him gain momentum. Out of all the starts this year, tonight was the game I think could really right the ship for him."