PORT CHARLOTTE — Iowa native RHP Jeremy Hellickson joked before he went to the mound for his first session facing big-league hitters that the brisk weather made it feel like home.
And then the Rays' top pitching prospect went out and coolly put on an impressive display.
"He just spots it so well," said OF Matt Joyce, who played with Hellickson at Triple A for part of last season. "And it's so easy. It's effortless. And that's why he's one of the organization's best pitchers."
"Easy," said Dan Johnson, a big-league veteran. "I couldn't believe how easy he was. Good life on his fastball. His changeup was good. His location was good."
Hellickson, 22, thought his 10-minute session was "pretty good" overall, pleased with the location of his low 90-mph fastball and a few of his curveballs. He's still working on shortening the break of the curve and being more consistent with the changeup and has experimented with some version of a slider/cutter.
After going a combined 9-2 with a 2.45 ERA between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham, Hellickson earned the organization's pitcher of the year award, a place on many of the top prospect lists and the chance to come to his first big-league camp.
Even knowing he's not going to stick around, Hellickson said, so far, it has been a great experience, especially the chance to watch and learn from the Rays' "older" starters (James Shields is most veteran at 28).
"I'm just trying to learn as much as I can," he said. "Probably the biggest thing I've seen so far is how hard everybody works."
AN A FOR ALEX: LHP Alex Torres, the 22-year-old hard thrower acquired from the Angels, also made an impressive debut.
Maddon liked what he saw from a distance, and INF Elliot Johnson, one of the hitters who faced him, was very impressed close up.
"He looked real good," Johnson said. "He threw a curve. He located, and he has a great fastball. I'd guess it was about 94 (mph), and it's coming."
Torres said he felt good, thought it went well and wasn't nervous, even as executive vice president Andrew Friedman and other team officials came over to watch him.
"I was totally relaxed," Torres said. "I didn't try to do more than I needed to because he was there."
The Rays got Torres, 2B Sean Rodriguez and minor-league INF Matt Sweeney in August in the deal for LHP Scott Kazmir.
Said Johnson: "I've played with Sean. And now seeing (Torres), I told Andrew, 'Good trade.' "
MORE IMPRESSIONS: Maddon on lighter and more athletic SS prospect Tim Beckham: "Watch him take his ground balls. It's a different cat than I saw last year; totally different." … Joyce on facing LHP David Price: "It was pretty remarkable. Five pitches, I think, he just painted the black every single one." … Maddon on Rodriguez, who made a basket catch of a wind-blown popup among several impressive plays: "He's baseball sharp."
MISCELLANY: Shields is being lined up to pitch the April 6 opener. He and RHP Matt Garza might work in Wednesday's first exhibition. Then Shields will move up a day. … RHP Joaquin Benoit, trying to come back from shoulder surgery, was given an extra day's rest and will throw his first live batting practice session today. … Thursday's practice lasted nearly four hours with some extra work on baserunning, situational hitting and infield defense. It would have gone longer, Maddon said, "had it not been so miserable with the wind." … Four Rays spring telecasts are being picked up by the MLB Network (though blacked out locally): March 5, 18, and 19 vs. the Yankees and March 29 vs. the Red Sox.