Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon wants Jeremy Hellickson to cut back on his cutter

Published April 25, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — Manager Joe Maddon usually likes what happens when Jeremy Hellickson takes the mound, given his 18-10 record and 2.88 ERA in 36 career starts, and the 2011 American League rookie of the year award with his name on it.

But Maddon is not particularly pleased with how Hellickson, who takes on the Angels tonight, has been pitching since incorporating a cutter into his repertoire this season.

"The problem is when a young pitcher who's had a lot of success tries to introduce a new pitch into the mix, then he's possibly taking away from something else that he does really well," Maddon said.

"You only get so many opportunities to throw a pitch in a game. I don't mind the idea that he's messing with something that might be good for him down the road. But most of the time the hitters are going to tell you when you need to become more creative."

Maddon prefers Hellickson, who is 2-0, 3.26 in starts against the Yankees, Tigers and Blue Jays, stick with his basic weapons of fastball, changeup, curveball.

Hellickson, 25, says he doesn't necessarily want to throw the cutter so often, but it has felt good and he feels it has been working, especially when he has fallen behind in counts.

He has, however, cut back. Based on data, he threw the cutter on 17 percent (20 of 118) and 25 percent (25 of 99) of his pitches in his first two starts, and less than 6 percent (6 of 106) in his last start.

"It's feeling good, it's getting a little more consistent," Hellickson said. "It's just a matter of figuring out when to use it."

HEAD GAMES: Maddon has been saying for more than a week that the starting pitchers, except for RHP James Shields, have not been aggressive enough in challenging hitters. Tuesday, after watching LHP David Price deliver a gem, Maddon acknowledged that it might have to do with spending all spring hearing, and reading, how good they are.

"We're starting to right ourselves on the mound. There's some momentum to be gained. I think maybe in the beginning the starters were applying a little too much pressure on themselves based on a lot of the pre-season conjecture and stuff,'' he said. "I like where we are right now. I think they're starting to really just morph into that nice little understanding.''

MATSUI UPDATE: An expected minor-league deal with former All-Star OF/DH Hideki Matsui could be finalized today, with the Rays declining comment until then. Matsui, 37, will head eventually to Triple-A Durham, where the Rays will see if/how well he hits, then if they have a need. Maddon did say, in general, depth is a good thing.

MR. TEXTBOOK: Maddon often raves about the outfield play of Ben Zobrist, specifically how fundamentally sound he is. "Everything he does out there is textbook," Maddon said, "and that's the part I really appreciate about him being out there."

Maddon said Zobrist could be the model for an outfield instructional video and went so far as to put him in the same sentence as Hall of Famer Al Kaline. "That's not a bad comparison," he said.

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MISCELLANY: Rays pitchers have gone 52 innings without allowing a homer, 72/3 shy of the team record. … Desmond Jennings had his second career leadoff homer. … L.A.'s Albert Pujols was hitless, extending his current skid to 0-for-16 and his season-starting homerless streak to 69 at-bats. … SS Reid Brignac, unhappy with his demotion after Friday's game, joined Triple-A Durham on Sunday. … CF B.J. Upton said he got a thank-you message from the 16-year-old patient he visited at All Children's Hospital before Saturday's game. … Today is the Rays-St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Carillon Hilton.