OAKLAND -- Jeremy Hellickson made a tremendous showing in his four starts with the Rays, posting a 3-0 mark with a 2.05 ERA.
"What Jeremy did proved to us what we thought he could do," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Alas, there are only five spots in the starting rotation, and Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis are both set to be activated off the 15-day disabled list. So after Friday night's start in which Hellickson got a no-decision against the Athletics, Hellickson got the news he had been optioned to Class A Charlotte, where the plan is for him to become familiar with pitching out of the bullpen.
"The big part is just learning the routine for being a bullpen pitcher," Maddon said. "What does it take to warm up? How long do I need?"
Maddon said Hellickson is "definitely" a candidate to pitch out of the bullpen should the Rays make the postseason, much in the same way David Price did during the 2008 postseason. Like Price, Hellickson is a top prospect, so the Rays must be sensitive to how they treat him.
"I kind of think it's going to be a little bit of the same [as it was with Price]," Maddon said. "If you're going to use him out of the bullpen there's still going to be this unknown. You're going to pitch him and then you're going to want to give him 'X' number of days based on the number of innings that he threw, or how many innings that he went."
Between starts at Triple-A Durham and for the Rays, Hellickson has logged 144 innings this season, which is a lot of innings for a young prospect and makes it necessary for the Rays to monitor whatever he does for the remainder of the season.
"You're not going to use him like everybody else," Maddon said. "I would imagine he'll do well with this. And then you're going to want to use him more often, but you can't. So you're going to have all these different little rules going on that you're going to create for him to benefit from his abilities and at the same time not abuse his arm.
"It's one of those fine-line things. But we've done it before with David. We know that we can do that. I think it's going to be similar actually."
Qualls rejoins team after attending funeral
OAKLAND -- Reliever Chad Qualls returned to the Rays on Saturday after missing two games to attend his grandmother's funeral in the Los Angeles area.
"It's kind of been a lot going on," Qualls said. "A lot of travel, to get from Tampa back to the West Coast, so I could take care of the business I needed to take care of."
Qualls said the fact that the Rays were on the West Coast made the trip easier as he simply had to take a short flight Saturday morning rather than having to fly across country to do so.
Qualls re-joined the team, as did Dale Thayer, who was recalled after Jeremy Hellickson was optioned to Class A Charlotte.
"Bullpen's gotten kind of thick, which is good," Maddon said. "I want to use the guys when I want to instead of forcing them into different situations."
Smooth road so far gets a little bumpy
OAKLAND -- Despite losing, 5-4, Friday night, the Rays still own the best road record in the Major Leagues at 35-24 entering Saturday, but they have lost six of their past eight on the road.
The Rays' road 35 wins are already the third-highest total in club history. The Rays won 40 in 2008 and 36 in 1999. Their 12 road series wins are only one shy of the club high of 13 in 2008.
The Rays have remaining road series against the Angels (three games), Orioles (three), Red Sox (three), Blue Jays (three), Yankees (four) and Royals (four).
Entering Saturday, the Rays are 27-13 (.675) when the opposition starts a left-hander, best in the Major Leagues. ... David Price turns 25 on Thursday. He and Phil Hughes own the most wins in the Major Leagues by pitchers under 25. ... Rays hitters lead the Major Leagues in walks with 510, but they also lead the American League in strikeouts with 953. In addition, the team's 145 stolen bases are tops in both leagues. The White Sox rank second and trail the Rays by 33. Five Rays players have at least 10 steals: Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett. Only two other teams have as many as four. ... Triple-A Durham clinched its fourth consecutive International League South Division title with a 3-1 win at Norfolk (Orioles) Friday night. The Bulls have won the South Division nine out of 13 seasons as the Rays' affiliate and will be seeking a fourth Governor's Cup Championship.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.