Rays' Jeremy Hellickson to get extra work in minors

Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) throwing in the second inning of the Kansas City Royals at the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. WILL VRAGOVIC  |  TIMES
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (58) throwing in the second inning of the Kansas City Royals at the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Tuesday, July 8, 2014.WILL VRAGOVIC | TIMES
Published July 13 2014
Updated July 14 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Instead of relaxing during the All-Star break, RHP Jeremy Hellickson will get some extra work.

The Rays optioned him to Double-A Montgomery before Sunday's game to create a roster opening for LHP Jake McGee, who was activated from the paternity list.

Hellickson had elbow surgery in January and has made one major-league start this season, lasting 4⅓ innings Tuesday, so the club moved him to the minors to give him more time to get back into rhythm.

"He was fine the last time, but I think this should really sharpen the edge up a little bit," manager Joe Maddon said.

The upcoming schedule gives the team more flexibility with Hellickson. With two off days next week plus the All-Star break, it won't need a fifth starter until July 29.

Hellickson is scheduled to start at Pensacola today and make another minor-league start — likely with Class A Charlotte — before rejoining the Rays for the next homestand, which begins July 25.

"I wasn't opposed to it," Hellickson said. "It's not too big of a hassle. I need to keep getting work in."

The team set the first part of its post-All-Star break rotation, with Alex Cobb, David Price and Chris Archer scheduled to pitch the three-game series in Minnesota.

Animated Escobar: Maddon has seen a more energetic Yunel Escobar since the shortstop returned from the disabled list, and the results have been promising.

Escobar had a streak of 64 consecutive plate appearances without a strikeout end Sunday, but he finished 1-for-4 with a stolen base. He also was part of turning both double plays and passionately encouraged Maddon to challenge his slide into home for the game's second run.

"This guy needs to be animated," Maddon said. "He does not need to be this stoic, one-size-fits-all kind of thing. He needs to be animated. He needs to be himself."

Self-assessment: For a player known for his defense, OF Kevin Kiermaier sums up his rookie season curiously: happy with his offense (10-for-21 with seven RBIs over the homestand) but displeased with his defense.

Kiermaier's speed and dives have turned out a few highlight-reel plays, but he's also admittedly made several mistakes. One was costly Saturday, when he missed on a head-first dive for a Colby Rasmus hit to centerfield. Kiermaier barely missed the catch — he said his glove was just a little off the ground — and Rasmus turned it into a triple and, one batter later, a Blue Jays run.

Kiermaier said he should have slid feet-first, so his body would have blocked the ball if he missed, likely holding Rasmus to a single.

"I've got all the tools; I've got to be a little smarter," he said. "It's instinctive, but at the same time I have to know when a time and a place is to be aggressive."

Medical Matters: CF Desmond Jennings wasn't in Sunday's lineup but said he is healthy after bruising his knee with a foul ball Friday night. C Ryan Hanigan wasn't in the lineup, either. He has battled soreness in his left side. The team expects both to be healthy after the All-Star break.

Miscellany: 3B Evan Longoria's sac fly in the seventh moved him four away from tying Carl Crawford's club record of 592 RBIs. … Maddon's successful challenge on Escobar's play at the plate in the sixth was the 11th time (in 31 challenges) he has had a call overturned. … McGee had two strikeouts in the ninth for his seventh save.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.