Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

Rays' Maddon bats pitcher Hellickson eighth

LOS ANGELES — Joe Maddon likes doing things differently, and the Rays manager made another unconventional move Sunday when he batted pitcher Jeremy Hellickson in the No. 8 spot in the lineup rather than the standard No. 9.

Though it had no effect on the game, Maddon had his reasons, having been pondering the move for a while and even consulting recently with Tony La Russa, the legendary manager who used that tactic often.

"You don't do it all the time, you don't want to do it all the time," Maddon said. "I think all the baseball stars have to align in a sense, all the right reasons have to be present."

Primarily, Maddon said he felt it could improve the potency of their lineup. In this case, by batting Wil Myers second, with Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist next, and with the potential for both No. 9 hitter Jason Bourgeois and No. 1 Sean Rodriguez to be on base for him.

"Without Myers hitting there he's not going to get pitched to at all," Maddon said. "I want Myers in the 2-hole to be protected and to get pitched at more often. You want more people feeding into him as opposed to the pitcher."

That didn't work as Myers struck out twice and grounded into a double play, though he did hit a sac fly in the eighth.

Secondarily, that it could actually accelerate the decision — granted, by just one spot — on pinch-hitting for Hellickson. That didn't matter, as Hellickson lasted only three innings.

Hellickson is the second Rays pitcher to bat higher than ninth, as Andy Sonnanstine hit third in May 2009 due to a lineup card mistake, and the fourth American League pitcher since the 1997 advent of interleague play. The others were New York's David Phelps in May 2013 and Kansas City's Zack Greinke in June 2009.

MOORE BETTER: LHP Matt Moore's 50-pitch bullpen session went extremely well, increasing the possibility he will rejoin the rotation by the weekend.

"It would not be any kind of a surprise," pitching coach Jim Hickey said.

Moore, on the DL since July 29 with a sore elbow, threw fastballs at close to game velocity and curves that Hickey said may have been his best of the year.

"I couldn't imagine it feeling better," Moore said. "I've been feeling pretty normal in my games of catch anyways, so I had a sense things were definitely on the upswing. But it's nice to get out there today and hear the ball coming out of my hand and put some serious effort into it and get back to it."

Moore will throw another bullpen session Tuesday or Wednesday, then the Rays will decide if he is ready to return or needs to throw to hitters in either a simulated or minor-league rehab game.

PITCHING IN: RHP Alex Cobb is all but officially set to come off the disabled list Thursday and make his first start since June 15, when he was hit in the head by a line drive. Maddon said they will wait to see Cobb on Tuesday but all they need is a thumbs-up. Or, Maddon said, "I'd prefer two thumbs-up." … Cobb would follow RHP Chris Archer and LHP David Price in the series against the Mariners and return the Rays to a five-man rotation. Maddon said they weren't sure what they would do over the weekend against Toronto, but he did mention starting Hellickson on Friday, which would at least push back struggling RHP Roberto Hernandez's next outing to Saturday. Or, it's possible Moore will return then and bump Hernandez to the bullpen.

MISCELLANY: RHP Kyle Farnsworth, who had been designated for assignment Friday, was released. … Maddon said there was nothing new on injured CF Desmond Jennings (broken finger), who is expected back on or close to his Aug. 19 eligibility date. … Saturday's Dodger Stadium crowd of 52,619 was the largest the Rays played in front of — regular- or postseason — since Sept. 14, 2008, at old Yankee Stadium. … The Rays finished interleague play 12-8.

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