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Jeremy Hellickson Leads Rays to 4-2 Victory Over Twins; Rays Tie Yankees for First

Going into last night's game, Jeremy Hellickson had some tall expectations to meet. Rays fans have been waiting for him to arrive all season long and with the Rays standing pat at the trade deadline, Hellickson needed to be near perfect or else risk being labeled a disappointment. Oh, but he didn't disappoint. Helloween was downright scary (for the Twins, at least).

Hellickson kept things simple last night, relying mostly on his four-seam fastball, change-up, and curveball. All three pitches were a thing of beauty - the fastball Hellickson could spot on the corners and had great late movement; his curve got tighter as the night went on; and his change-up made many, many Twins look downright foolish. From the scouting reports I'd read, I wasn't expecting Hellickson's curve and change-up to look so sharp and so dominant....but damn, they were impressive. Between his fastball and change-up, his arm speed is the same; his release point is the same; the ball's flight path is the same; and yet it's a full 10 MPH slower than his fastball. Out of 15 changes, Hellickson generated 6 swinging strikes (23%). Actually, Hellickson got swinging strikes on all of his pitches last night, leaving him with a 13.1% overall swinging strike rate. Day-um.

The best part about watching Hellickson pitch, though, was watching his pitch sequences. Lots of young pitchers break into the major leagues as "throwers", getting away with their sheer stuff without having to worry about setting batters up; Hellickson, though, is a pitcher and a crafty one at that. He seemed very nonplussed by the entire situation, remaining calm on the mound and using his easy delivery to look like he was tossing batting practice. That nonchalont attitude was deceiving - Helly attacked the Twins with a vengeance, throwing all of his pitches in any count, against any batter. To pick a great example, let's look at how Hellickson pitched to Jim Thome his first time up:

First pitch: Fastball, high and away. Swinging strike.

Second pitch: Fastball, inside off the plate. Ball one.

Third pitch: Fastball, low and inside. Ball two.

Fourth pitch: Curveball, high and over the middle. Called strike.

Fifth pitch: Change-up, low and inside. Ball three.

Six pitch: Change-up, low and outside. Swinging strike, strike three.

Hellickson set Thome up with the fastball, then attacked away with his curve and change-up, throwing both when behind in the count. How many pitchers have the gall to throw Thome a breaking pitch when behind in the count, nonetheless a rookie pitcher in his first start? That's poise right there.

Of course, Hellickson wasn't perfect last night. He seemed to have some trouble with his command when throwing from the stretch (as Jason Collette noticed, he seemed to be falling off on some of those pitches) and...well, that was my only critique. Hellboy put on a show for us last night. He's a refined, mature, poised pitcher already, and he'll make a formidable weapon whenever the Rays call him up for good.

Other Notes:

  • BJ Upton had a great night, going three for four with a double and three stolen bases. He was left stranded all those times on base, but nothing he could do about that.
  • Matt "Ulysses" Joyce doesn't stop hitting. Two for four with a double and the game winning RBIs? All in a day's work.
  • This is a great read. Enjoy.