This game was a lot closer than the final score makes it appear. For the first six innings, the Rays were only able to score one run; that run was helped along by a fielding error in the outfield by the Tigers, allowing Dan Johnson to score all the way from first on a double by Jason Bartlett. The Rays were walking plenty and hitting the ball hard, but the balls kept going right to fielders. The Rays were only ahead 3-0 going into the top of the ninth, but then their offensive exploded, thanks in part to some wild pitching from the Detroit staff. Three hits and four walks in one inning will rack the score up quite quickly.
Thankfully, though, the Rays didn't need all those runs: they had Jeremy Hellickson on the mound. If it's possible, Hellboy looked more dominant last night than in his first major league start last week; he went seven innings in only 86 pitches, struck out seven, walked none, and only let up three hits - all singles. His fastball didn't get many swings and misses (only one), but he did locate it well, mix it well with his off-speed pitches, and strike out a few batters looking with it. His change-up and curveball were both on prominent display again, with his change-up generating seven whiffs (25%) and his curveball generating two whiffs (11%). His pitches all had the same tight cluster of movement that we saw in his last start, although I'll leave the more detailed pitch dissection up to RZ.
Again, I was endlessly impressed with Hellickson's demeanor on the mound and the way he attacked batters. He'd throw the exact same breaking pitch multiple times in a row to a batter, then strike them out with a fastball in on the hands. He threw all his pitches in every count and although he let up mostly flyball outs (nine flyball outs to five groundball outs), he kept his pitches in the lower part of the zone. I know it's just two starts. I know it's a small sample. I know he'll probably struggle once the league adjusts to him. But still...I can't help get excited.
- Dan Johnson is a walking machine. He went 0-1 last night but walked four times, including once when the bases were loaded. It's only 28 plate appearances, but an On-Base Percentage close to .500? I'll take that.
- Evan Longoria had another 2 for 5 evening, including an RBI double. The number four slot in the batting order seems to be working for him.
- Somehow, the Rays had nine hits, ten walks, and scored eight runs, yet only went 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. How is that possible?
- Bartlett and Joyce also had good nights at the plate, both reaching base three times (double and two singles for Barty; double and two walks for Joyce).
- Mike Ekstrom....I overlooked you when you were called up to the majors because I didn't want to admit you were back (and I still don't). However, that was a darn impressive ninth inning you just threw. Only one baserunner and you struck out a batter? I still don't hope you're around for long, but I'm proud of you. Keep it up.