The fact that touted prospect Jeremy Hellickson has won his first two big-league starts has been impressive enough.
But it's how Hellickson completed the feat that has the Rays feeling like they have something special.
The rookie pitched seven shutout innings in Tampa Bay's 8-0 win over the Tigers on Tuesday night at Comerica Park, baffling hitters by offering a complete package to pull the Rays to within a half-game of the first-place Yankees.
"Jeremy was fabulous," manager Joe Maddon said. "The combination of composure, location, pitchability. That's the thing that really stands out about it. … To have a guy that young understand this concept of pitching so well, it's unusual."
Hellickson at one point retired 18 straight and allowed three hits.
"This guy knows how to pitch," Tigers outfielder Johnny Damon said. "He's fearless."
Tigers manager Jim Leyland said Hellickson was a bit "different," especially for a young pitcher, throwing changeups to right-handers, tossing a curveball for strike one, moving hitters off the plate and spotting his "sneaky" fastball.
"He was under control," Leyland said. "He was really impressive."
Hellickson, 23, called up in the middle of a pennant race to start for the injured Wade Davis, said he didn't feel any nerves like he did during his dazzling debut last week, when he gave up two runs over seven against the Twins.
"He just looks like he's the coolest cat on the field," Matt Joyce said. "He's something special."
Fewer than half of Hellickson's 86 pitches (40) were fastballs. But he had command of his offspeed stuff and was able to consistently repeat his delivery.
"I felt really good," Hellickson said. "As long as I can throw my curveball for a strike, I think I can be successful."
Said Maddon: "You don't have to be 6-(foot)-5 and throw 96 to be successful here."
Though the score indicated a blowout, it was much closer. The Rays (69-44) scored five in the ninth, tying a club record with five walks, three with the bases loaded.
They didn't need much the way Hellickson (2-0) was pitching.
"He was throwing any of his pitches in any count," catcher John Jaso said. "It seemed like he could throw anything for a strike at will."
After cruising through six on 77 pitches, Hellickson ran into trouble in the seventh. With one out, Damon and Brennan Boesch both singled between second and first, setting the table for Triple Crown threat Miguel Cabrera.
One pitch later, Hellickson got Cabrera to ground into an inning-ending double play.
That was his last inning, after just 86 pitches. But with Joaquin Benoit fresh, there was no need for Hellickson to go back out.
After all, he'll have plenty more chances to impress.
"This guy has legitimate, legitimate stuff," pitching coach Jim Hickey said. "This isn't just like some fuzzy, feel-good story. … I can see him having tremendous success."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.