The Tampa Bay Rays have a huge decision ahead of them. Rookie right-handed pitcher Jeremy Hellickson put up another gem against the Baltimore Orioles Sunday afternoon (8/15) in front of a crowd of nearly 30,000. Hellickson made his third start of the season allowing three hits, one walk, and five strike outs through six innings in a game that is considered his worst start of the season. The Rays won 3-2 thanks to Carl Crawford’s two-RBI game and, of course, Hellickson’s stellar performance. Hellickson is the first player in the modern era to pitch at least six innings and allow three hits or fewer in his first three major-league starts. The young man is three and 0 and pitches like he doesn’t have a pulse. So what do the Rays do with him?
There has been chatter that the Rays may go to a six-man rotation, but apparently James Shields isn’t cool with that, which is hilarious considering “Big Game” James is the weak link in this fine stable of pitchers the Rays have assembled. Once Jeff Neimann and Wade Davis return from the DL, Hellickson will most likely head to the bullpen. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I think going with a six-man rotation is a great call considering David Price’s pitch count is extremely high for this point in the season and they’ll need him fresh for the playoffs. Having a sixth man would also allow the walking wounded like Neimann an extra day of rest before it’s his turn to start.
Like Price, Hellickson’s season pitch count is also high. He’s had a ton of starts while he played in Durham - Tampa Bays Triple-A affiliate - and has pitched deep into games while in the minors, so that’s something the Rays organization needs to keep an eye on. He’s a young kid and they certainly don’t want to wear him out so early in his professional career. There’s a better than average chance his nasty stuff will be called upon, especially once the 2010 Playoffs begin.
The Rays have a good problem on their hands. Jeremy Hellickson has shown us that, even when he plays poorly, he can pitch exceptionally well and positively contribute to a Rays team that is post-season bound and is knocking on an A.L. East title. Hellickson’s season stats so far: 1.35 ERA and only three total earned runs. Freaking. Legendary.