SEATTLE - Jeremy Hellickson has had his starts pushed back a day, two days, even 16 days this season as the Rays try to limit his innings while ensuring James Shields and David Price pitched in the big games against the Yankees and Red Sox.
Whatever problems the uneven work schedule might pose to a rookie pitcher who likes to pitch on a consistent schedule are well-hidden by Hellickson's low-key demeanor.
They are well-hidden by Hellickson's record, too.
The Tampa Bay Rays' right-hander beat the Mariners 8-1 on Sunday at Safeco Field for his 10th win, which leads American League rookies and ties him with Rolando Arrojo as the only Rays rookies to win 10 games by the end of July.
"He's been impressive all year long," Shields said. "To be as consistent as he's been all year long is pretty impressive. He's gone through some adversity as far as not pitching and being held back for 14 days or whatever it was, and sometimes that can weigh on your mind a little bit, but he's taking it pretty well."
Hellickson allowed just five hits — none through the first five innings — and pitched into the eighth to become the first member of the staff to reach 10 wins this season.
Pitching mostly with his fastball and change-up, and not one of his better change-ups according to manager Joe Maddon, Hellickson retired the first 11 batters he faced as he improved to 10-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.15.
What's more, all those hits were singles, meaning the home runs that have cost him in his recent starts were not a problem Sunday.
"When you're getting quick outs and throwing strikes you get a little more confidence in the pitches you're throwing up there, and I kept attacking the zone," Hellickson said.
The win gave the Rays a 4-6 record during their last West Coast trip of the season. It also gave them their first series victory since they took two of three from the Cardinals during the first three days of July.
The 10-game trip through Kansas City, Oakland and Seattle — the shallow end of the American League — was looked upon as a chance for the Rays to make up some ground on the first-place Red Sox and wild card-leading Yankees. But the Rays flew home from Seattle on Sunday night further back in the standings than when they jetted to Kansas City after Shields beat the Yankees on July 21.
The run of victories that Maddon keeps predicting for this season will only happen, he said, if the offense perks up, and the offense was perky Sunday against Seattle lefty Jason Vargas, who tossed a complete-game shutout against them on June 3.
The Rays reached Vargas for nine hits and six runs (four earned) through the first 51/3 innings.
Desmond Jennings got the offense going in the top of the first when he reached on a single, stole second, continued to third on a throwing error by Miguel Olivo and scored on Evan Longoria's grounder to third, beating the throw to the plate with a head-first slide.
"He's a table-setter," B.J. Upton said. "That's what he's here to do. He goes, we go."
Ben Zobrist continued his hot pace at the plate with a three-hit, three-RBI game to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, and Sean Rodriguez drove in three runs with three hits, including his fifth home run of the season, which came in the sixth and chased Vargas.
Unlike their previous two wins, when the Rays did most of the damage with big innings, the Rays spread the offense around Sunday, scoring in six of their nine at-bats.
That Hellickson had things in hand helped.
"He was very good," Upton said. "Very, very good."
Hellickson, who tied Dillon McGee of the Mets for the most wins by a rookie in the major leagues, has given the Rays at least seven innings in nine of his 19 starts. The Rays are 6-3 when that happens.
Chone Figgins broke up Hellickson's bid for a no-hitter when he singled to center field to start the sixth inning.
"I was aware of (the no-hitter), but it wasn't something I was thinking about," Hellickson said. "I had four innings left. I just had to go out there and keep them off base."
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