SEATTLE — The Rays like to joke at times about the small victories involving rookie pitcher Jeremy Hellickson, such as getting him to have an extended conversation or show some emotion on his usually stoic face.
But that's only because they know he is capable of delivering some big wins.
Sunday, Hellickson did just that, taking a no-hitter into the sixth and working into the eighth, as the Rays beat the Mariners 8-1. It put a good finish on an otherwise disappointing 4-6 road trip in which they dropped 3½ games in the standings, sitting 10½ behind first-place Boston in the AL East and 8½ behind the wild card-leading Yankees at 56-51.
The victory was Hellickson's 10th — most for any American League rookie (and matching the Mets' Dillon Gee for the major-league lead) and the most on a Rays staff that includes All-Stars David Price and James Shields.
"That's pretty good," Shields said. "He's been impressive all year long. To be as consistent as he has been is pretty impressive."
"He's been doing the same thing forever it feels like," said rookie outfielder Desmond Jennings, who has played behind Hellickson in the minors and majors. "So it's not surprising at all. You kind of get relaxed with him out there at times. You know he's going to throw strikes. He just makes it easy."
That was certainly the case Sunday, as Hellickson retired the first 11 Mariners then, after a two-out walk to Dustin Ackley in the fourth, four more before giving up a single to Brandon's Chone Figgins leading off the sixth.
Hellickson said he was aware of the no-hitter but wasn't thinking about it at that stage. Still, "I was disappointed."
Manager Joe Maddon said realistically, it was a long shot, as Hellickson had already thrown 67 pitches through five innings and the Rays are keeping a close watch on his workload.
"It was going to be tough," Maddon said.
The Rays led 7-0 by then, so when Hellickson allowed another hit in the sixth, then two to start the seventh, it wasn't of any concern. He finished with 109 pitches, making more use of his fastball, less of his changeup and not much of his curveball at all. He also didn't allow a homer for the first time in eight starts.
"When you're getting quick outs and throwing strikes, you get a little more confidence in the pitches you're throwing up there," Hellickson said. "And I just kept attacking the zone."
The Rays took the lead right away when Jennings reached on an error, stole second, went to third when the throw skipped into centerfield and scored on a groundout.
Hellickson, 24, has won at every level, with a 49-16 record in the minors and 14-7 thus far in the majors. He is the first AL rookie to have 10 wins by the end of July since Boston's Daisuke Matsuzaka (a Japanese veteran) in 2007, and only the second in Rays history, joining Rolando Arrojo, who had pitched professionally in Cuba, in their inaugural 1998 season.
"It means he's good," Maddon said.
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]mes.com.