08/10/10 11:40 PM ET
Hellickson's seven scoreless tame Tigers
Rookie righty earns second victory in as many starts
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
The Rays' top pitching prospect made his second career Major League start Tuesday night and pitched flawlessly en route to picking up his second win in an 8-0 Rays win over the Tigers at Comerica Park with 26,114 watching.
"He knows how to pitch, that's for sure," said James Shields, the elder statesman of the Rays' starting rotation at age 28. "He's got really good command of his pitches. He knows where each one of them is going. That's one of the main differences between the Minor Leagues and the Major Leagues."
By winning the Rays won their second consecutive game while moving to 69-44 on the season, marking the best 113-game start in franchise history, surpassing a 68-45 mark established by the 2008 club.
Hellickson made his Major League debut on Aug. 2 when he allowed two earned runs on three hits in seven innings to pick up the win against the Twins. The 23-year-old right-hander was then returned to Triple-A Durham, where he remained until being recalled Monday after right-handed starters Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann each went on the disabled list with right-shoulder strains.
In Hellickson's debut, he retired the first 10 batters he faced. Tuesday night he limited the suspense, but he managed to be even more effective.
Hellickson allowed a leadoff single to Austin Jackson in the first then he retired the next 18 Tigers hitters in order.
"I felt really good," Hellickson said. "As long as I can throw my curveball for a strike, I think I can be successful. It feels really good right now."
Johnny Damon finally broke through for the Tigers by dribbling a single through the right side of the infield in the seventh and Brennan Boesch followed with a single to bring Miguel Cabrera to the plate.
If anything can rattle a young pitcher, it's the sight of an RBI machine like Cabrera stepping to the plate with runners aboard. Hellickson, who doesn't seem to have a pulse, didn't look the least bit intimidated by Cabrera and he got the Tigers slugger to hit into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double-play.
"His last at-bat, I just threw him a fastball down the middle and he rolled over," Hellickson said. "I just tried to keep away from him in his first two at-bats. Threw him a lot of off-speed pitches and got the strikeout."
Hellickson has now limited right-handed hitters to two hits in 24 at-bats against him.
Rays manager Joe Maddon opted to lift Hellickson after the seventh. His final line showed no runs on three hits and no walks while striking out seven.
"This kid knows how to pitch," Damon said. "This is only his second big league start. That goes to show you how good their starting pitching is. It seemed like the kid had no fear. He'd throw five straight changeups or five straight changeups then mix in the fastball.
"The kid is pretty good. He's going to be in the big leagues to stay for a long time, if not now. The kid knows what he's doing."
Hellickson's performance made him the third pitcher since 1920 to pitch seven or more innings and allow three hits or less in each of his first two Major League starts, joining Mike Norris (Oakland, 1975) and Lew Krausse (Kansas City, 1961).
"Arm felt the same [as his first start], body felt the same, I wasn't nervous at all this game," Hellickson said. "Last game I had a little bit of nerves going. But I felt pretty much the same."
When Hellickson left the game, the Rays held a 2-0 lead, but they added a run in the eighth when Carl Crawford scored on Evan Longoria's double, then the floodgates opened in the ninth.
John Jaso doubled home one run and Ben Zobrist brought home another with a sacrifice fly. After that, Tigers pitchers walked in three to break open what had been a close game.
Dan Johnson could be counted among those walking with the bases loaded in the ninth, giving him four walks on the night to match a club record.
Joaquin Benoit pitched a scoreless eighth for the Rays, while closer Rafael Soriano had the night off with the Rays taking the 8-0 lead in the top of the ninth. Mike Ekstrom got the final three outs to end the game.
While the score looked lopsided at the end, Hellickson got the job done with the game on the line, impressing Maddon to no end with his smooth delivery and calm demeanor.
"Helly really demonstrates the art of pitching well, he does," Maddon said. "And also it speaks to not only our guys but anybody who wanted to watch that game that you don't have to be 6-5 and throw 96 [mph] to be successful here.
"You really don't see too many young guys [who can do what Hellickson did]. I saw [San Diego's 22-year-old right-hander Mat Latos] this year, he was the other young pitcher I saw this year who really impressed me. When it comes to composure and pitchabiility at a young age these two guys are similar."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.