ST. PETERSBURG — For the Tampa Bay Rays, everything now rests upon the right arm of Jeremy Hellickson. Seemingly, that doesn’t inspire much confidence around Tropicana Field.
Hellickson, tonight’s starter for Game 4 of the American League Division Series at Tropicana Field, seems to understand that sentiment.
“As far as my season went, it’s not a good one,’’ said Hellickson, who was 12-10 with a 5.17 ERA, second highest in the AL. “Very inconsistent. Very frustrating these last few months.’’
From July 31 through Sept. 27, his final regular-season start in Game 160 at Toronto, Hellickson was 2-7 with a 7.15 ERA over his final 11 appearances. He was optioned to Class A Charlotte on Aug. 27 — a move designed to give him rest, since he didn’t pitch in any minor-league games — and that was a key concept for Rays manager Joe Maddon.
“What we believe and what we feel about Hellie is when he’s given rest, and actually extended rest, he normally comes back pretty well,’’ Maddon said. “This is a pretty good rest he’s had between the last time he pitched and (tonight’s Game 4).
“We feel good about the fact that you’re going to see this discrepancy and disparity between velocities on his pitches, which really helps him become effective. I feel strongly … you’re going to see a very good performance.’’
Hellickson also has a decent track record against Boston (4-2, 4.21 ERA). In 11 of his 12 starts against the Red Sox, he allowed three runs or fewer. Still, Hellickson didn’t expect to get the ball in Game 4.
“I was surprised a little bit,’’ he said. “I know that what I did the last two months didn’t sit too well with the guys making the decision. The way (Chris) Archer threw the ball this year was unbelievable.
“I was very happy that they still had confidence in me going out there in a playoff game. Like I said, I was surprised. But I’m ready and very excited.’’
Hellickson wants to make amends for his only postseason start, an ALDS loss against the Texas Rangers that ended Tampa Bay’s 2011 season. And he wants to erase the memory of poor results down the stretch. He said lack of fastball command was the biggest culprit.
“I’ve got to be better,’’ Hellickson said. “It’s not fun what I did the last two months. I pride myself in being consistent and I was anything but that.
“I can’t really dwell on what I did in the regular season too much. I get another chance. (Tonight) is a new beginning.’’
That mirrors the approach of former Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, now an analyst with TBS Sports.
“Having done this for a long time, I know that it doesn’t matter how you finish (in the regular season),’’ Smoltz said. “It’s a totally different game in the postseason. With the effort you need, with the pressure, with how much the little things mean, I would say you wipe the slate clean.
“Let’s remember, too, that Hellickson is in his third full big-league season. Everybody has been spoiled here in Tampa Bay with the learning curve of these young pitchers. Somebody is doing something right. We didn’t do it this well in Atlanta. We stunk for a while. We got our brains beat in. After a while, it just started to click. I think the same thing can happen with a guy like Hellickson.’’
One good playoff performance can help everyone forget a frustrating regular season.
“We want to be in this situation,’’ Hellickson said. “We know we can win three in a row. It’s going to be difficult, but we know we can do it.’’