ST. PETERSBURG — Impressive rookie RHP Jeremy Hellickson makes his third big-league start today, with a fourth likely Friday in Oakland.
But there may not be too much to see after that, aside from an occasional relief appearance, manager Joe Maddon said. The Rays' plans are to reinstall injured starters Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann to the rotation as soon as next week and to monitor and limit Hellickson's workload no matter how strong of a case he makes to keep starting.
"I would never say that would not be possible, but to this point the conversation has been to get those other two guys back; Jeremy's doing what we thought he could do right now," Maddon said. "The other thing about him is we're also cognizant of his innings pitched, too, that he's going to be jumping so much this year.
"That's the plight of us sometimes: one eye on the present, one eye on the future. Of course you want to win this year, but not at the expense of hurting Jeremy Hellickson long term."
Hellickson, 23, pitched 131 innings last season between Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham while missing six weeks with a shoulder strain after throwing 152 in 2008. He has 1312/3 thus far this season, the first 1172/3 at Durham. Typically, the Rays like to keep increases to 20 percent a year.
The Rays have talked about using Hellickson out of the bullpen in September, but on a limited and cautious basis.
PITCHING IN: Niemann and Davis, both on the DL with shoulder strains, are playing catch and doing well, with a rough target of returning Aug. 23-25 in Anaheim.
Niemann said he was "very encouraged" after Saturday's long-tossing session — "My best day yet" — and would throw a bullpen session Monday. He was relieved the problem wasn't worse, and "you've got to figure we caught it at the right time."
Davis, on a similar schedule, said "everything feels real good. I just had some fatiguing and a couple things going on and needed some time to bounce back."
PEÑA REPORT: 1B Carlos Peña (plantar fascia tear, right foot) showed enough progress in a Saturday workout that he'll make a one-game rehab appearance today for Class A Charlotte (5:35 p.m., Charlotte Sports Park) with "a reasonable chance" he could rejoin the Rays on Monday, Maddon said.
DRAFT DAZE: Talks with top draft choice OF Josh Sale and supplemental-round pick OF Drew Vettleson are likely to continue up until Monday's midnight deadline for a deal.
"Conversations are ongoing, and we remain cautiously optimistic that we'll have a positive announcement on Monday," Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said.
Sale, taken 17th overall, is slotted for a bonus of $1.467 million, according to Baseball America, and Vettleson, taken 42nd, for $802,800. If there are no deals by Monday night, the Rays lose their rights but get additional picks next year, as they did when not signing 2009 first-rounder Levon Washington.
Among other top unsigned picks are fourth-round RHP Austin Wood (of St. Petersburg College) and seventh-round OF Michael Lorenzen. Ninth-round C Jake DePew signed Saturday, and sixth-round RHP Jesse Hahn is considered close.
MISCELLANY: The Rays tied their team record with their sixth grand slam, second this season to the Yankees (nine). … Kelly Shoppach's fourth-inning blast was the first homer by a Rays right-hander since Aug. 5. … Rocco Baldelli made it to Bristol, Conn., to watch his brother Dante play for Rhode Island, which lost 1-0 to Connecticut in the Little League New England Region final. … Durham LHP Heath Phillips left Friday's game with a left forearm strain; OF Fernando Perez went on the DL with a shoulder injury. … A female fan sitting behind the Rays dugout was taken from the stands on a stretcher and to a hospital for precautionary reasons after being hit by Brian Roberts’ bat in the first inning, but the team said she was okay.