Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon expects Jeremy Hellickson to shine again

OAKLAND, Calif. — Rookie RHP Jeremy Hellickson has made it look easy in his first three appearances — the first pitcher in the modern era to work six or more innings and allow three or fewer hits — and manager Joe Maddon said there's no reason he can't do it again tonight against the A's.

Primarily, that's because Maddon said it wasn't as easy as it looked for the 23-year-old against Baltimore on Sunday as he didn't have his best stuff and had to figure out what to do and how best to do it.

"My point is he's already been challenged in a sense and came through it pretty nicely," Maddon said. "There's just no telling with this guy. I just like the way he is. For a young man, he's got a real remarkable feel for what's going on out there.

"I have no reason to expect anything other than what we've seen already."

Even though three starts provide an ample sample for scouting and video analysis, Hellickson should enjoy some benefits from the unfamiliarity hitters have. And when he no longer does, Maddon said he has the ability to make the necessary adjustments.

Hellickson, in his typical Midwestern manner, said he just plans to go out and pitch.

"Right now, I'm just going to keep going out there and throw my game," he said. "If they pick up something and I have to adjust to it, then so be it."

PITCHING IN: RHPs Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann (strained shoulders) today face the final hurdle in their expected returns to the rotation next week with Davis throwing 45 pitches (the equivalent of three innings) and Niemann 60 (four) in a simulated game.

"Both came out of their bullpen sessions really well," Maddon said. "I'm really anticipating good from both guys. They look really good. All indications are they're going to be fine."

If so, Davis will start Tuesday in Anaheim and Niemann Wednesday.

NO QUALLS: The Rays were without reliever Chad Qualls on Thursday and likely will be again tonight due to a personal matter, which Maddon said was a death in the family.

The Rays won't put him on the bereavement list, which would allow them to call up a replacement, because then he'd be required to miss three games.

DAYS OF REST: SS Jason Bartlett wasn't in the lineup, acknowledging his head was "a little sore" after basepath collisions on consecutive days. Maddon said he already had planned to have Bartlett and Ben Zobrist on the bench anyway, so the schedule worked out well.

FUTURE GRANT: RHP Grant Balfour said he is ahead of schedule in recovering from the strained intercostal (rib) sustained July 30 in pregame horseplay with pitching coach Jim Hickey.

"I'll be ready by the end of August, but it's up to them," Balfour said. "They may want to wait until after Sept. 1 (when rosters expand). But I'm feeling great."

Balfour was expected to be out 4-6 weeks but said he feels "great" and will throw a 30-pitch bullpen session today in St. Petersburg.

As for what happened?

"Stupid, I know," he said. "Crazier things have happened."

MINOR MATTERS: With Hellickson in the majors and three starters — Carlos Hernandez, Heath Phillips and Virgil Vazquez — on the DL, Triple-A Durham picked up two free agents with big-league experience. RHP Ramon Ortiz, 37, is a former 16-game winner with the Angels who pitched in 16 games for the Dodgers this season and most recently was with the Mets' Triple-A team. LHP Bobby Livingston, 27, pitched for the Reds (2007) and Mariners ('06). … Rocco Baldelli was 0-for-5 in his third game with the Bulls.

SPECIAL SESSION: Sunday's pairing of Matt Garza and Dallas Braden is the second time this season but just the third in the past 20 years two pitchers who threw no-hitters faced off later in the same year. Edwin Jackson and Roy Halladay met July 28, Wilson Alvarez and Nolan Ryan on Sept. 6, 1991.

Still good: Rays fans didn't vote enough to get the big prize, but the Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation did get a $5,000 grant through the Pepsi Refresh Project. (The Twins' project got the $200,000 grant.)

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon expects Jeremy Hellickson to shine again 08/20/10 [Last modified: Friday, August 20, 2010 12:47pm]

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