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09/07/10 6:46 PM EST

BA names Hellickson Minors' best player

BOSTON -- Jeremy Hellickson has been named Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year for 2010.

While at Triple-A Durham, the right-hander led the International League with a 2.45 ERA.

"Like I've been saying from Day 1 of Spring Training, I knew I didn't have a chance to earn a spot in the rotation here with the guys they had," Hellickson said. "All I could do was go down there and stay consistent and develop further down there, and I think I did a good job of that."

Hellickson, the Rays' fourth-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, completed his steady climb through the Minor Leagues this season. After making nine starts in Durham in 2009 and winning the MVP Award in the Triple-A National Championship, he returned there this season and went 12-3 in 21 starts, with 123 strikeouts against 35 walks in 118 innings.

"I had the mindset at the end of last year that I'd be back down [at Durham in 2010]," Hellickson said. "I knew I had a lot to work on, and it was nice to work on it down there."

Hellickson made his Major League debut in August and is 3-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his first 28 Major League innings. Because of the Rays' pitching staff depth, Hellickson returned to the Minor Leagues with Class A Charlotte when Jeff Niemann came off the disabled list. Hellickson was called up again when rosters expanded in September.

"I just went down there and I think I just tried to stay consistent, that was the main thing," Hellickson said.

With Hellickson's award, the Rays become the first organization to have three different players -- Delmon Young and Rocco Baldelli were the other two -- honored as Baseball America's Minor League Player of the Year. The most prestigious award of its kind, it has been handed out since 1981 and features a distinguished list of former winners, including Manny Ramirez, Derek Jeter, Joe Mauer and Jason Heyward.

Getting the award "means a lot," Hellickson said. "I played against a lot of really, really good players down there, and to win it means a lot."

Peers vote Crawford fastest player in Majors

BOSTON -- In this week's Sports Illustrated poll, 339 Major League players were asked "Who Is the Fastest Player in the Game?" A third of the players picked Carl Crawford, followed by the Astros' Michael Bourn (12 percent), the Marlins' Emilio Bonifacio (nine percent), the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen (eight percent) and the Mets' Jose Reyes (six percent).

When told of the poll, Crawford allowed himself a smile.

"Guess I'll hold on to the title a little longer," said Crawford, who added he still has "the jets."

Struggling Niemann to make next start

BOSTON -- Jeff Niemann has had three successive rough outings since coming off the disabled list, but Rays manager Joe Maddon isn't about to give up on the right-hander, who is slated to make his next start Sunday.

"He's starting," Maddon said. "Honestly, I was so involved [Monday night] that I didn't realize they scored 11 runs with two outs yesterday. He was one pitch away from getting out of a lot of stuff.

"I think he got locked in to using his fastball yesterday and did not have good command of his fastball yesterday. And here's a guy that, God bless, he's got such good other pitches with command. You saw the curve. He threw some good hooks yesterday, [a] couple of good splits yesterday, so we just need to get him to go out there and recognize, 'This isn't working, yes, use this other thing.'"

Ekstrom earns promotion from Triple-A

BOSTON -- Right-hander Mike Ekstrom was recalled from Triple-A Durham prior to Tuesday night's game against the Red Sox.

Maddon referenced the fact that Andy Sonnanstine and Lance Cormier have pitched a lot lately, which led to the move.

"We don't expect anything bad to happen, but if it did, the threat of extra innings, you can't leave yourself short right now, so we just brought him up," Maddon said.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.