PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP Jeremy Hellickson admitted he was anxious before making his long-awaited spring debut Friday against the Pirates.
"It's been a long time," he said.
It didn't show. Hellickson, 23, sidelined earlier in camp with hamstring tightness, was sharp in retiring the side in the fifth inning in just 10 pitches, including one strikeout. He and manager Joe Maddon were pleased with how he felt and pitched, and are confident he will be ready to begin the season as the Rays' fifth starter.
That's when Hellickson hopes to carry his success over his four big-league starts last season (3-0, 2.05 ERA) over a full season (he was 4-0, 3.47 overall).
"That's the plan," he said, smiling. "I hope I can do that."
Hellickson, who will next pitch two to three innings Tuesday, appreciates the opportunity to step into the rotation after the offseason trade of RHP Matt Garza to the Cubs. But Hellickson said he's not going to immediately replace Garza, the 2008 ALCS MVP who won 15 games last year and threw the club's first no-hitter.
"I'm not going to step in and do what Garza's done the last few years," he said. "But I guess it's nice to know they have confidence in me."
Maddon knows Hellickson could have some growing pains.
"He may not nail it like everyone is expecting him to, but as a No. 5 starter, I expect him to be very good at that," Maddon said.
CUT TIME: RHP Matt Bush and LHP Alex Torres, two pitchers with powerful arms, were among eight players reassigned to minor-league camp as the Rays made their first cuts. The moves leave 54 players in camp. Also reassigned were RHP Brian Baker, RHP Jonah Bayliss, RHP Richard De Los Santos, RHP Ricky Orta, RHP Albert Suarez and OF Brandon Guyer.
Bush, a converted shortstop, needs to log innings on the mound and show he can stay healthy.
Torres, acquired from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir trade and a promising starting prospect, was sent down so he can get regular innings in minor-league camp. The players on the 40-man roster will be officially optioned to one of the minor-league affiliates later.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays (5-8-1) rallied from five runs down but lost 8-7 to the Pirates, snapping their four-game winning streak in front of 4,513 at Charlotte Sports Park. DH Manny Ramirez, who hit leadoff, went 0-for-3. RHP Kyle Farnsworth gave up a two-run homer in the sixth, and RHP Adam Russell allowed one run on four hits in one inning to pick up the loss.
Davis off Target: RHP Wade Davis struggled with his command Friday, allowing four runs on seven hits while walking two. He threw just 28 of his 57 pitches for strikes. Davis said he was a little off mechanically.
"I was a little erratic; I'm not happy with that," Davis said. "But I'll go out next time and do a little better."