CLEARWATER — RHP Jeremy Hellickson talked seriously before Thursday's start against the Phillies, saying he would approach it like a regular-season game.
Then Hellickson backed it up with his best outing of the spring, allowing one run over six innings in a 2-1 loss at Bright House Field. In his previous start, he allowed 10 runs and 11 hits in three innings against the Twins.
"It's nice to go out there and pitch how you feel," Hellickson said. "My confidence wasn't shot at all, it's been a real rough last few starts, but I've been working on things. And it feels good to put up some zeroes and pitch like I know I can."
Hellickson had better command of his fastball in a 109-pitch outing. He attacked hitters like he would in a regular game, as opposed to working on stuff. He allowed seven hits, the biggest a solo homer by C Brian Schneider in the fifth. But Hellickson matched Phillies LHP Cole Hamels, and he got out of a two-on, no-out jam to end the sixth.
"I thought he did a great job actually," manager Joe Maddon said. "He really got into a groove throwing the fastball down with a good changeup coming off that, some nice curveballs, pitched out of some tough moments against some pretty good hitters, so I was really pleased with him."
Hellickson, whose ERA dropped from 15.30 to 10.13, said he must improve on his success with two strikes, but with one start left before the season opener, he feels he's ready. "I feel like I'm there," he said.
CENTER STAGE: OF Desmond Jennings looked — and felt — good in his return to the field Thursday, playing eight innings in center. Jennings, who was limited the past week with shoulder soreness, hit a double, stole a base and said he's 100 percent, ready to play on a regular basis.
"I can make whatever throw I have to," he said. "I'm good to go."
Also back: Reid Brignac entered the game at short in the sixth, his first big-league exhibition action since May 15, and was encouraged with how his foot responded, especially defensively. "Really had no issue today," he said of the plantar fascia injury to his right foot.
Maddon said Brignac is still competing with Sean Rodriguez for the starting shortstop job and could envision a platoon situation.
MEDICAL MATTERS: Reliever Fernando Rodney said X-rays of his right forearm showed no fracture, and he expects to resume throwing in a couple of days: "It's good. I'll be all right."
Rodney was hit flush on the right forearm by a line drive off the bat of Pittsburgh's Alex Presley in the ninth inning Wednesday. He said he didn't see the ball and was scared at the time, then relieved to find out it was only a bruise.
GAME DETAILS: The Rays lost on a bases-loaded walkoff single by Phillies INF Hector Luna. … 3B Evan Longoria hit a solo homer, his second of the spring. Elliot Johnson hit his fourth double.
MISCELLANY: DH Luke Scott went 1-for-3 with a double in a minor-league game in Port Charlotte. LHP J.P. Howell threw a scoreless inning in the same game. … RHP Wade Davis threw a bullpen session instead of appearing in a minor-league game. … Maddon said the decision on the extra outfielder could come down to the end of camp. … Maddon said with CF B.J. Upton still injured, OF Matt Joyce may play against more left-handers.
Times staff writer Marc Topkin contributed to this report. Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]om