Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Tampa Bay Rays are doing the right thing by protecting Jeremy Hellickson's arm

Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three starts, enters tonight’s start having thrown a combined 137⅔ innings at the majors and Triple A. That’s 14⅓ off of his career high set in 2008 and 6⅔ more than last year.


Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who is 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three starts, enters tonight’s start having thrown a combined 137⅔ innings at the majors and Triple A. That’s 14⅓ off of his career high set in 2008 and 6⅔ more than last year.


After his first three big-league starts, the rookie pitcher in Washington had a 2-0 record. His ERA was 1.86, and opponents were batting .149 against him. Stephen Strasburg ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated. After his first three big-league starts, the rookie pitcher in Tampa Bay had a 3-0 record. His ERA was 1.35, and opponents were batting .136 against him. Jeremy Hellickson could very well end up in Triple A after his next start tonight. Kind of makes you wonder if the Rays are — how shall I put this — insane? In the ramshackle history of an expansion franchise, no Rays starting pitcher has ever made such a dramatic entrance. Hellickson has been poised, he has been efficient, he has, by far, been better than anyone could have reasonably expected.

So are the Rays making a huge mistake by not taking advantage of Hellickson while fighting for first place?

No, they're not.

At least, not at this point.

Certainly, we can all agree on the notion of seizing the day in a pennant race. We wouldn't mind spending more of ownership's money, and we might be willing to trade a prospect at the right price. But risking a young player's future? That should be nonnegotiable.

And that's why this story is not as simple as it seems. There is no universal manual on how to protect promising pitchers, but there has been enough history to suggest they are at greater risk for injury when their workload increases dramatically at a young age.

So will Hellickson, 23, blow out his elbow if he pitches 200 innings instead of 175 this year? I have no idea. But I'd bet the risk is greater. And I don't think it's wise for the organization's future, or fair to the kid's career, to take that chance.

The issue with Hellickson is additionally complicated because he has had some minor health issues in a couple minor-league seasons. So he doesn't have the solid base of innings that, say, Wade Davis had when he came up last season. Davis had four minor-league seasons of 145 innings or more when he was called up. Hellickson has had one.

"Guys like Jeremy Hellickson, you think can be a big part of your future," manager Joe Maddon said. "Because he's met with some success right now, which you thought he could, you don't all of a sudden blow it up and then apply more to him in the event he may get hurt or you push him too hard."

So let's presume the Rays are doing the smart thing — the ethical thing — by putting Hellickson's health ahead of the standings. The question then becomes how best to maximize the innings he has remaining in 2010.

Hellickson threw 152 innings in 2008 but was limited to 131 last season because of a shoulder strain. Typically, the Rays don't want an increase of much more than 20 percent. But do they base it on Hellickson's high mark of 152 innings or the more recent 131?

If the team was out of contention, the answer would certainly be different. But given the postseason possibilities, the Rays might be willing to allow Hellickson to flirt with the 175-inning range.

Considering he goes into tonight's game at 137⅔ innings, there isn't a whole lot of room remaining.

If he stayed in the rotation, Hellickson would exceed 175 innings before the end of the regular season. And that makes no sense at all. Why burn innings in August that could be more valuable in October? Especially with Davis and Jeff Niemann set to come off the disabled list.

So sending Hellickson back to Triple A after tonight's start would have some appeal. The Rays can easily monitor his workload in Durham and can use him every five or six days so he's still ready to start if Davis or Niemann have setbacks.

It's also better than putting him in the big-league bullpen because it's going to take some time to adjust to relief work. Hellickson is not used to pitching on short rest, so you wouldn't want to work him back-to-back nights right away. And easing him into the bullpen would be easier after Sept. 1, when rosters are expanded, and the Rays would have extra relievers to pick up the slack.

Certainly, this is not a perfect solution. On the other hand, the perfect solution does not exist. You cannot chase the pennant at full speed and safeguard Hellickson's future simultaneously. So you try to find a safe landing spot somewhere in the middle.

Sort of how the Rays handled another hotshot rookie pitcher in 2008. Tampa Bay still managed to win the pennant that season, and David Price has matured into a leading Cy Young Award contender in 2010.

It's not likely Hellickson's story will turn out the same way in 2012.

But the least you can do is make sure he is healthy enough to try.

John Romano can be reached at

Tampa Bay Rays are doing the right thing by protecting Jeremy Hellickson's arm 08/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 20, 2010 8:33am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting


    UPDATE, 12:45: Cash said Robertson was taking better swings Friday and so he wanted to move him up today, liking the idea of having three straight right-handers vs. a LHP they don't know much about. ... Souza was still smiling this morning about his failed dive attempt last night, and the reaction it got. .. The …

  2. Why the Lightning would consider trading Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — This summer, the Lightning could trade one of its most dynamic young players ever.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) celebrates with his team on the bench after beating Chicago Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling (33) to score his second goal of the period and to tie the score at 4 to 4 during second period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Monday evening (03/27/17).
  3. Why the Lightning should keep Jonathan Drouin

    Lightning Strikes

    Keep him.

    Jonathan Drouin is live bait. The Lightning is ready to run the hook through him and cast him out there again. Drouin has enough talent for the Lightning to meet some defensive needs in a deal.

    Keep him.

    Lightning wing Jonathan Drouin celebrates after beating Los Angeles Kings goalie Peter Budaj during the first period of Tuesday's win in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. This Tampa Bay Lightning wing rides the newest wave of fan interaction

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — There are photos of Lightning fan Shaun Egger as a toddler at center ice at the then-Thunderome, aka Tropicana Field. He's played in the Lightning's high school hockey league for Palm Harbor University. But his closest personal encounter with players had been waving through a crowd after a training camp …

    Tampa Bay Lightning player J.T. Brown wears his anti UV glasses as he talks over the headset with a hockey fan while they play against each other on line in an XBOX NHL video game in Brown's game room at his home in south Tampa. The fan chose to be the Washington Capitals and Brown, of course, was the Tampa Bay Lightning. Brown interacts with fans through video game systems as he streams the games live on Twitch with plans for the proceeds to go to charity.
  5. ‘Biggest fight' behind her, Petra Kvitova returns ahead of schedule


    PARIS — Five months after a home invader's knife sliced into her left hand, Petra Kvitova will return to competitive tennis at the French Open, a last-minute decision to make her comeback earlier than expected.

    Petra Kvitova adjusts her hair during a news conference at Roland Garros Stadium, where she will make her tennis return at the French Open. Kvitova's left hand was badly injured by a knife-wielding intruder in December; she has recovered ahead of schedule. [Associated Press]