BOSTON — RHP Jeremy Hellickson has struggled both times he has worked out of the bullpen. And the Rays think the problem stems from him not getting enough work overall.
The rookie right-hander said the physical adjustment from starter to reliever hasn't been a problem, as he has had no trouble getting warmed up and ready to pitch. "I felt pretty good both times out; I felt really comfortable," Hellickson said. "Things just haven't gone my way."
While two appearances is obviously a small sample (31/3 innings, 21 batters), the results haven't been encouraging: a 13.50 ERA and .474 average, compared to 2.05 and .172 in his four starts.
"This guy's a pitcher, he's not a thrower," manager Joe Maddon said. "A lot of what he does is based on command and feel, so when you pitch infrequently, I think that's what we're seeing right now."
The obvious answer is to use Hellickson more frequently, but that's not the perfect solution either because the Rays are trying to limit his innings to around 170, and he has already thrown 1471/3.
"It's a fine line, a juggling act to get him out there often enough and not expend him either," Maddon said. "It's not like he's been horrible, he's just missing. … Whereas when he was starting for us, everything was right where he wanted it to be."
Hellickson, 23, is used to pitching on the regular schedule of a starter. Adjusting to the occasional work of a reliever, and figuring out how to stay sharp between outings, has been more of an issue.
"That's probably the toughest thing, finding a routine that's going to work," Hellickson said. "I really have no idea what kind of a routine to get in out of the bullpen. It's weird because I'm feeling so good; my arm feels good, my stuff feels good. I'll figure it out."
TALL TASK: Maddon sounded even more confident about struggling RHP Jeff Niemann's chances for a rebound on Sunday after getting pitching coach Jim Hickey's report on their Wednesday afternoon bullpen session.
"It was really, really good," Maddon said. "(Hickey) was very impressed with it, so it was good to hear. (Niemann's) fine, there's nothing wrong. As his confidence is restored you're going to see him pitch like he has over the last year-and-a-half or so."
PREMIER PAIRING: There will be considerable buzz at the Trop on Monday night for the opening of the Rays-Yankees series with what looks to be a marquee matchup between the AL's top winners and Cy Young Award candidates: Rays LHP David Price and Yankees LHP CC Sabathia.
"You get to this point of the year and you get that kind of matchup, what more fun is there than that," Maddon said.
But the bigger question among the Rays was how many fans will be in the stands. "If that one's not sold out, that'll be tough to swallow," Price said.
LF Carl Crawford said it's the kind of matchup he'd buy a ticket to see, then laughed and added that it wouldn't be hard to do at the Trop.
"Front row," he said. "You can get 'em right there. It ain't hard."
MINOR MATTERS: Class A Charlotte beat Bradenton (Pirates) 10-2 to force a third and decisive game at 7:05 tonight in the best-of-three first-round Florida State League playoffs in Port Charlotte, with RHP Alex Colome on the mound. Top winner Joe Cruz worked into the seventh and league batting champ Stephen Vogt knocked in three runs. … Triple-A Durham got off to a rough start in the best-of-five first round of the International League playoffs, losing 8-4 at Louisville (Reds). Top winner Richard De Los Santos had a poor start, allowing seven runs in five innings. Aneury Rodriguez starts Game 2 tonight.
MISCELLANY: Hellickson was also named minor-league player of the year by USA Today. … The Rays dropped consecutive road series for the first time since June. … In winning the season series 11-7, the Rays had their most wins against the Sox in any season. … Sox C Victor Martinez hit .405 against the Rays this season.