ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields didn't have any confidence in his curveball last season.
"I didn't trust my curveball to save my life," he said.
That's not the case this year, as Shields has used the extra offspeed pitch to help him collect seven complete games on his way to becoming an All-Star for the first time in his career. Now, he is trying to help his teammate Jeremy Hellickson do the same thing.
Before Hellickson's last start, Shields worked with the rookie on his curveball, changing his grip. The results were evident as Hellickson turned in seven innings and allowed just two runs, while striking out seven Yankees on Tuesday.
Two of those punchouts came on Hellickson's revamped curveball.
"What I thought I saw [Tuesday] was better depth on the hook," manager Joe Maddon said.
Hellickson changed his grip so that he uses his middle finger to spin the baseball more than he used to on his curve.
"We changed his grip up a little bit," Shields said. "He has got a really good curveball. I just think that he wasn't trusting it as much as he wanted to. He put the time and the work in to be able to do what he did."
Despite all of that, Hellickson still doesn't feel comfortable enough with the pitch to throw it early in the count.
"I feel like it's a good pitch for me right now with two strikes," he said. "I'm still working on throwing it for [early] strikes."
With an above-average fastball and changeup as part of his repertoire, the development of Hellickson's curveball is vital to the 24-year-old's future in the Majors.
"Being able to use that curveball, it allows him to throw three quality pitches," Shields said, "and they're all plus pitches."
Price pays a visit to special friend
ST. PETERSBURG -- Before taking the mound Wednesday against the Yankees, David Price had something important to take care of.
The Tampa Bay lefty visited a local children's hospital to support 11-year-old Leigh Dittman, a special friend of his. Leigh and her family were recognized for their contributions to the hospital with a permanent plaque on the philanthropic wall.
With the help of her family, Leigh, a patient at the hospital, has raised over $300,000 through a charity fundraiser.
"It was a good day for Leigh," Price said. "It was an emotional day for her."
In addition, the Dittman family presented Price with a plaque of his own for his work and dedication on behalf of Leigh and her cause.
The two met in 2009 at a Rays event in Tampa, and they have kept in contact ever since. Price has had Leigh at Tropicana Field for games and batting practice numerous times this season.
"She's just a little spark plug, man," Price said. "She kind of took me away from everybody [when I first met her], and I hung out with her for the rest of the day."
The Rays optioned right-handed pitcher Dane De La Rosa back to Triple-A Durham following Thursday's game in order to make room for Wade Davis, who was activated off the 15-day disabled list.
Manager Joe Maddon said Tampa Bay's bullpen was at full strength Thursday, the first time he could say that since Sunday's 16-inning game.
Angelo Dundee, who was Muhammad Ali's cornerman, was on the field talking to Maddon before Thursday's game.
With reliever Dane De La Rosa making his Major League debut Wednesday, the Rays have now used 12 different rookies this season.
Anthony Chiang is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.