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Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
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Fastball command critical for Hellickson

ANAHEIM, Calif. - Jeremy Hellickson faces the newest Angel, Zach Greinke, this afternoon in a game that should create a lot of buzz among the red-clad hometown fans at Angel Stadium. "You would think," Hellickson said before Saturday's game. "They're right there in the thick of things. To acquire a guy like that they should be pretty excited." The Angels acquired Greinke, the 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner, on Friday to strengthen their chances of reaching the postseason, so today will be the first time the Angel faithful get to see the new guy up close. It's also the first time Angels fans get to watch Hellickson in person, since the Rays right-hander will make his first career start in Southern California.
Greinke was 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA for the Brewers and was considered the top of the class of pitchers either traded or rumored to be on the move before Tuesday's non-waiver deadline. Rays manager Joe Maddon said Friday after the trade was announced that he does not have a problem with the Angels, who held a 31/2–game lead over the Rays in the wild-card standings prior to Saturday's game, acquiring another frontline pitcher to their rotation. He also said he doesn't mind that his team will face Greinke in his Angels debut. "My point is I'm very happy with Jeremy Hellickson pitching for us," Maddon said. "We've beaten Cy Young Award winners in the past. We can do it again. We play against a lot of good pitchers all the time. You got to be able to beat those guys to get to the promised land. Honestly, it does not bother me. Hellickson is one of the best young pitchers in the game. He has not won a Cy Young yet, but I'll take Helly. My point is not to underestimate what we have, either." Hellickson (5-6, 3.42) won the 2011 American League Rookie of the Year Award and became the first starting pitcher to begin the next season with a 4-0 record after winning that award. After that, well, things got a little rough for Hellickson. He was 0-6 in his next nine starts, with some of the trouble his own doing and some of it a lack off offensive support. Hellickson said he believed he pitched better during the run than his record indicated but was nevertheless happy to end the streak when he beat the Orioles in Baltimore to start this nine-game, three-city trip. "I was, obviously, but I felt I was throwing good, felt good," he said. "But it was nice to finally end that." The key to that victory, Hellickson said, was his fastball command. "That's been huge every time I've had a good outing, especially these last three or four," Hellickson said. "The fastball command has been pretty good. I've gotten ahead of the batters. It's good right now. It's coming out of my hand as good as it has. It feels pretty good." That will serve him well this afternoon as he negotiates his way through a tough Angels lineup and faces one of the game's better pitchers. "I'm going to definitely have to be on top of my game," Hellickson said. One thing Hellickson has going for him today is, unlike the last time he faced Greinke (June 21, 2011, in Milwaukee), he won't have to bat. "Thank goodness," Hellickson. He was 0-for-2 that night with two strikeouts.

rmooney@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7227
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