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Tampa Bay Rays' Jeremy Hellickson earns rare monthly awards double

SEATTLE — The 4-1 record and 1.36 ERA in five May starts was special enough for Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson to win a rare double, voted the American League's pitcher and rookie of the month.

But manager Joe Maddon said it's what the Rays expect from their talented 24-year-old.

"I think we've thought this all along, that he can be this good. It doesn't really surprise me," Maddon said. "He can maintain it. … This is not just a fluky thing. He can maintain a high level of efficiency. He's good. He's real good."

Hellickson was honored, and typically humble, about the awards, which hadn't been won by one player in either league since Florida's Dontrelle Willis in June 2003.

"It was a good month," he said.

Also, "It's definitely a huge honor."

And "it definitely feels good."

Maddon said the key to Hellickson's success — he was 2-2 with a 4.31 ERA in five April starts — has been making several adjustments, primarily to make more and better use of his fastball.

Hellickson is the first player to win the rookie award and either the pitcher or player of the month award since Milwaukee's Ryan Braun in 2007. No Ray had won both in the same month, and no Rays rookie had won a pitcher of the month award.

PITCHING IN: RHP Andy Sonnanstine starts tonight against the Mariners so RHP James Shields, Hellickson and LHP David Price can start June 14-16 against the Red Sox.

The addition of the June 13 makeup in Detroit forced some juggling, and by dropping Sonnanstine in tonight and making other adjustments, the Rays were able to set up the rotation the way they wanted.

The way it looks now, Price, RHP Alex Cobb and Shields will face the Angels next week; Hellickson, Price and Wade Davis the Orioles on June 10-12; Cobb the Tigers in the makeup game, and Shields, Hellickson and Price the Red Sox.

KOTCHMAN UPDATE: 1B Casey Kotchman remains sidelined by a right ankle sprain, though Maddon said he is expected to return to the lineup Saturday.

The Rays not only miss his unexpectedly hot bat (a .361 average) but also his smooth glove and calming influence on defense, which is a part of their recent run of sloppy play.

The five errors the Rays made against Texas were their most in a three-game series in nearly two years, since June 6-8, 2009, vs. the Yankees. And they made two more on Thursday.

"When you get a defender of his caliber out of the game, it really matters," Maddon said. "It matters for so many different little things that nobody really notices on a daily basis that he's able to hold together for us. So he matters a lot.

"If you're an infielder and you're looking over there and you're throwing to him, you're feeling pretty good. It takes a lot of pressure off the throws."

CLEANING UP: Johnny Damon batted cleanup for the first time since May 8, 1999, and the ninth time in his career, going 1-for-3 with a walk. Maddon joked that the impetus was seeing Damon's biceps bulging from his cut-off sleeves during Wednesday's grunge-themed trip.

Damon wasn't sure what the reason was but didn't mind: "Now it's not a big deal. I think maybe when I was young I would be like, 'What, four-hole?' Now I'll just take it as a compliment."

REHAB REPORT: RHP Jeff Niemann (lower back strain) makes the first of three scheduled rehabilitation starts tonight for the Class A Stone Crabs in Port Charlotte, scheduled for 60 pitches or four innings, whichever comes first.

MISCELLANY: Johnny Damon extended his streak of reaching base to 28 games, the second longest active streak in the majors (Florida's Logan Morrison is at 32) and three off his career high. … Matt Joyce's homer off LHP Aaron Laffey was his third in his last 13 at-bats against lefties; he had none in the first 67 of his career. ... First-pitch temperature was 57 degrees. … SS Hak-Ju Lee, plus INF Greg Sexton, OF Brett Nommensen and RP Josh Satow, were named to the Class A Florida State League All-Star Game on June 18 in Clearwater. … Sunday's eighth inning was the first time in franchise history the Rays allowed four stolen bases in an inning. Worse, they came in a span of four pitches. … Maddon was thrilled that Darin Erstad, one of his favorite ex-Angels, was named head coach at Nebraska: "A perfect fit."

Tampa Bay Rays' Jeremy Hellickson earns rare monthly awards double 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 3:11am]

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