Monday, January 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Hellickson ready to return to mound

ANAHEIM, Calif. — RHP Jeremy Hellickson's initial return to the Rays did not go well. He had just headed out to rightfield to play catch during batting practice Monday when he was struck on the left shoulder by a batted ball.

"It didn't hurt as much because I was pretty mad about it," he said. "I'd just gotten back and been on the field for five minutes and that happens."

His day got considerably better after batting practice when the Rays told him he was going back into the rotation after missing one start for team-ordered rest via a procedural demotion to the minors. He'll be on the mound tonight.

"I'm just ready to get back out there," Hellickson said. "These last three-four days have felt like three-four months. So I'm ready to get back out there and try to get back on a nice little groove again."

Manager Joe Maddon expects him to: "He could go out there and pitch really, really well. With his time off and the break and physically feeling better about himself, I think the sky's the limit. He could pitch really well (tonight) and pitch deeply into that game."

That would be quite an endorsement of the benefit of a few days off, as Hellickson had been struggling mightily, going 0-5 with a 9.00 ERA in his six previous starts and failing to get through five innings five times.

Though Hellickson took only one day totally off — spending the others throwing at the Trop — he said it still was good to get away, the mental break potentially more beneficial than the physical.

"It's not that I want to prove anything, I just want to get back out there and help the team win," he said. "The last month I didn't even give us a chance to win. I haven't went five (innings) … and don't even give us a chance. So just go out there and try to go deep and help this team win again."

Maddon said the decision to put Hellickson right back into the rotation was made in consultation with pitching coach Jim Hickey and executive VP Andrew Friedman. "I felt pretty strongly about letting him go ahead and do that," Maddon said. "When we sent him out we told him how much we thought we needed him in this coming month, and so we're backing up our word right there."

PITCHING IN: Rather than have RHP Jake Odorizzi not pitching much in the big leagues, the Rays sent him back to Triple-A Durham to pitch for the Bulls in tonight's International League playoffs opener. They did the same with reliever LHP Jeff Beliveau, with both likely to rejoin the Rays later this month.

"The work would probably not be here for them right now, so you want to keep them actively throwing for when you really do need them," Maddon said. "So when that moment arrives and say you want to start Odorizzi, boom, he's been throwing. Say all of a sudden your bullpen is taxed and he's had some target practice."

NOT-SO-MINOR MATTERS: Three of the Rays' four full-season minor-league teams made the playoffs. Advanced Class A Charlotte opened best-of-three Florida State League play with a 1-0 win over Fort Myers (Twins). Game 2 is tonight in Fort Myers. Class A Bowling Green opens best-of-three Midwest League play tonight vs. Fort Wayne (Padres) with RHP Jeff Ames on the mound. Durham opens its best-of-five playoff at home against Indianapolis (Indians).

MISCELLANY: The Rays won for the first time in 10 games west of Colorado. ... RHP Roberto Hernandez's 3 2/3 inning save was the longest by a Ray since RHP Lance Cormier in May 2009. ... RHP Jesse Crain (shoulder strain) played catch at a distance of 120 feet and continues to show signs of progress, the big test being whether he feels good enough to throw off the mound this weekend in Seattle. … Maddon said he had no hesitation hitting Delmon Young fourth in his first start and like what he saw as Young went 2-for-5. … Due to a pregame ceremony, Thursday's game time has been pushed back to 10:25 p.m.

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