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Rays vs. Royals, game 1: Hellickson done in by the big inning once more

The Royals bat around in the sixth to ruin what was looking like it would be a good outing

Al Messerschmidt

I do not understand Jeremy Hellickson, and I'm having real trouble pretending. Through five innings, he was outstanding. He gave the type of performance that makes me believe in both Jeremy Hellickson the FIP-beater and Jeremy Hellickson the quality pitcher. He used all of his pitches and he hit his spots. He threw his fastball by people, got them out in front of his changeup, and dropped his curve in for strikes. He worked fast, and threw his pitches for the most part where catcher Jose Molina set his mitt. His line after five: 16 batters faced, two singles, no walks, and three strikeouts.

Then, in the sixth inning, with Elliot Johnson leading off, everything fell apart. Johnson laced a single and Alcides Escobar doubled doubled up the right-field line. Alex Gordon then hit a liner straight up the middle to bring home the first run. Hellickson next threw a curve ball in the dirt to Eric Hosmer that Jose Molina was unable to control with his chest protector, and Escobar came home for another run on the wild pitch. Hosmer flew out harmlessly, but Salvador Perez knocked home another run home with a line drive up the middle. Now at first, Perez went in motion, causing Ben Zobrist to break toward second base and be unable to play Butler's chopper to his left, giving the Royals runners at the corners. Hellickson caught Lorenzo Cain looking with an inside fastball that was actually a ball, but David Lough hit a hard RBI grounder down the line and past Kelly Johnson playing third for the first time in his pro career.

That brought Elliot Johnson back to the plate for the second time in the inning. EJ has not exactly lit things up in KC. He had played in 41 games, striking out 27% of the time while posting an isolated power of only .044. He had only hit one home run on the year, that coming in a previous at bat against Jeremy Hellickson. He does seem to have Helly's number though, as he jumped on a 3-1 fastball and turned it into a three-run homer, ending Hellickson's night. Helly's line for the sixth inning was ten batters faced, eight earned runs on eight hits, one strikeout and no walks.

The recently recalled Jake Odorizzi finished out the game for the Rays in unexciting fashion, allowing a few more runs (including the rare Hosmer homer [to opposite field, no less]), but striking out four Royals with his rising fastball and sinking curve. It wasn't the type of appearance that makes me want to trade David Price, but he did save the bullpen.

A recap isn't the arena to figure definitively the nature of Hellickson's struggles. They are too complex to be dealt with effectively in the heat of the moment. Still, I'd like to hear your ideas. What do you see from him? Why does he seem to alternate between stretches of cool competence and stretches of complete and utter hitability? Do his mechanics falter, or is his approach uneven? Is this even a pattern, or just a trick of memory?

Some other notes:

  • In the top of the second, Lorenzo Cain hit a sinking liner into short right center. Desmond Jennings was shaded that way, and he got a great jump. He finished the play off with a sliding catch, but still managed to make it look routine. I've said this before about plays that DJ makes look routine. It was not.
  • In the top of the third, Miguel Tejada flew out to short center field. MIGUEL TEJADA IS STILL PLAYING BASEBALL?
  • In the bottom of the third, Sam Fuld hit a grounder into the hole by shortstop. Alcides Escobar made a great play, ranging to his right. He fielded the ball on the run away from first base, took two steps while he turned, and launched a strong accurate throw to first base while running full speed in the other direction to beat the hustling Fuld. It's plays like this by marginal offensive players that make Derek Jeter's gold gloves a travesty.
  • In the bottom of the seventh, Scott took a good swing at a fastball on the outside edge of the plate, and flied it the other way to the left-field wall, hustling around first for a double. A good sign on the Luke Scott power watch.
  • In the top of the eighth, when Elliot Johnson was batting, there was an audible taunter berating him for not hitting like that (three hits today, one a homer) when he was with the Rays. After Elliot laced a hard liner down the third base line for his third hit of the night, he appeared to have some gestures and words for the fan, so it appeared that the taunting got to him. I'm not going to tell you that you shouldn't ridicule a former player, but in this case it sure doesn't seem to be working. Maybe try a different approach? I call for a standing ovation before EJ's next at bat.