ST. PETERSBURG — Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson felt a lot better physically Saturday night than he did in his last start, when he pitched six shutout innings in Anaheim despite throwing up several times.
But when it came down to execution, Hellickson wasn't his usual self in a 4-0 loss to the Orioles in front of 20,612 at Tropicana Field, snapping the Rays' three-game winning streak. He allowed four runs, all with two outs, while walking three in just four innings, just the third time this season he has given up more than three runs.
"Helly just had an off night," manager Joe Maddon said. "That kind of put us behind the eight ball a little bit. … We set a bad tone for the game early. Helly just had a difficult night."
This one wasn't all on Hellickson, as the Rays (56-51) mustered just five hits against Orioles lefty Wei-Yin Chen and got shut out for the fourth time this season. The Rays defense was sharp, including rightfielder Sam Fuld throwing out Matt Wieters at the plate to end the third, and the bullpen was spectacular with five shutout innings. But the Orioles (56-51) were better.
"They flat-out beat us tonight," Maddon said.
The Orioles battled from the beginning, with leadoff hitter Nick Markakis working a nine-pitch walk to start a first-inning rally that led to a run on two well-placed two-out singles.
"They made me work a little bit, and I threw a lot of pitches in the first inning, so they saw everything," Hellickson said. "I thought I made some really good pitches that they fouled off."
Maddon said Hellickson wasn't as aggressive as he had been in previous starts and was more "tap-dancing" around the strike zone. The Orioles made him pay with clutch hits, including Chris Davis' two-run, two-out single with the bases loaded in the fourth.
"I just couldn't make a big pitch when I needed to," Hellickson said.
Chen, however, had the Rays a bit off-balance, scattering five hits over seven shutout innings. Maddon said Chen was able to throw his fastball down and away for a strike consistently and was better with his breaking stuff.
DH Jeff Keppinger, who stranded a runner on second twice, put it more simply: "It's the same old thing: We just didn't come up with the big hit. Our pitchers kept us in the game, we just couldn't get the big hit."
The Rays bullpen continued its stellar stretch and has now allowed just two runs in its past 48 innings. Lefty J.P. Howell struck out four of the six batters he faced, extending his scoreless-innings streak to 20, and Burke Badenhop tossed two shutout innings of his own.
"Outstanding," Maddon said.
Tampa Bay still feels good entering today's matinee with Baltimore, knowing it has a chance to win its fourth consecutive series, with ace lefty David Price on the mound.
Said Keppinger: "It's not so much we're sweeping every series, but if you can keep winning series, it'll turn out in your favor in the end."
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com.