ST. PETERSBURG — So far, a little extra rest has done wonders for RHP Jeremy Hellickson.
Hellickson was in a monthlong funk when the Rays optioned him to Class A Charlotte in late August, saying they wanted to give him time to regroup.
Since Hellickson returned from the eight-day break, he has put together back-to-back solid starts, including Thursday's 4-3 win over the Red Sox.
Hellickson, pitching on seven days' rest, was charged with three runs on four hits in 5 1/3 innings. He struck out seven, all swinging, nearly as many as he had combined in all August (10).
"It feels good," said Hellickson, who threw 5 1/3 scoreless innings in his previous start, Sept. 4 against the Angels. "I was just trying to get back to what I was doing there in that two-month stretch that things were going well, and that's command the fastball down, and let my changeup work off that, and getting ahead of guys."
Hellickson made a couple of bad pitches, allowing solo homers to C Jarrod Saltalamacchia and DH David Ortiz. But Rays manager Joe Maddon was also encouraged to see a lot of "bad swings" made on Hellickson's changeup. "When he has that going on," Maddon said, "that's when he's really good."
Hellickson said the extra rest he got before the start is "never a bad thing."
The key will be how he responds in his next start, which will be on the regular four days of rest. For now, he's happy to be on the right track.
"It's nice to see the results the last few games," he said.
LOOKING BACK: RHP Roberto Hernandez apologized to the media for not talking Wednesday after giving up the go-ahead grand slam to OF Mike Carp in the 10th inning of a 7-3 loss to Boston.
Hernandez also regretted the pitch he threw, a hanging slider. Hernandez's best pitch is a sinker, but after not being able to locate it in a four-pitch walk to 1B Mike Napoli the batter before, he changed it up, still hoping for a double play. "A bad slider, up in the zone," Hernandez said.
Hernandez had been good in his previous two relief appearances this year, including 3 2/3 hitless innings with seven strikeouts Sept. 3 against the Angels. But after a seven-day layoff, Hernandez said his pitches weren't working the same.
Maddon said in hindsight he should have had Hernandez start the inning instead of RHP Joel Peralta, who was admittedly tired after warming up twice earlier in the game. Peralta walked two, including one intentionally, before Hernandez came in.
LINING UP: 1B James Loney hit third Thursday for the first time this season. Maddon said it was because of Loney's previous success against RHP Jake Peavy (.321 average, .345 on-base percentage, .679 slugging percentage) from their time in the National League. Plus, with Loney swinging the bat well recently, Maddon wanted to protect Longoria in the cleanup spot. The last time Loney hit third was Sept. 13, 2012, for Boston.
MISCELLANY: C Jose Molina, who missed his second straight game to tend to his ill mother in St. Louis, is expected to rejoin the team today in Minnesota. … RHP Jesse Crain (shoulder) will throw his third bullpen session today; if all goes well, he will face hitters in the next few days. … CF Desmond Jennings matched his career high with 13 homers, thanks to a solo shot in the fourth. … Fernando Rodney has converted his last four saves after blowing three of his previous six.
NOT-SO MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham resumes its best-of-five International League final tonight in Pawtucket (Red Sox) with the series tied at 1. Durham LHP C.J. Riefenhauser was the lone relief pitcher selected to Baseball America's year-end All-Star team for the entire minor leagues. Between Durham and Double-A Montgomery, the 23-year-old went a combined 6-1 with a 1.22 ERA and 11 saves in 51 games.