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Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Hellickson, Rays bounce back to prevent sweep

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Jeremy Hellickson showed up Wednesday at the O.co Coliseum. So did the Rays offense, getting hits in bunches, hits with runners in scoring position, hits with the bases-loaded.

Together they powered the Rays to a 7-3 victory against the A’s in a game the Rays needed to win to avoid a sweep and an 0-3 start to this 10-game, three-city road trip.

After slogging through the first two games of the series, the Rays bats woke up against Sonny Gray, chasing the AL pitcher of the month for July in the fifth inning.

“We started driving in runs, and on top of that Hellickson was outstanding,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “He looked like the rookie of the year Hellickson right there. That was pretty good stuff - command of his fastball, his changeup, dropped some hooks (curves) in there when he wanted to. I actually thought he worked a little quicker. Everything was just right for him. He had a great look about him.”

Hellickson pitched seven innings, his longest outing since he went seven July 5, 2013 against the White Sox. He earned his first win of the season and his first victory since last Sept. 4 in Anaheim.

The Rays have been waiting for this Jeremy Hellickson to show up for some time.

Hellickson had been waiting, too.

“Absolutely. It’s been a long time since I felt good after a start,” Hellickson said. “I can’t really put my finger on what I did different. I felt the same, just stuff was a little sharper. I just had a little better command.” Command had been an issue for Hellickson since the middle of last season. Pain in his right elbow prevented him from fully extending his arm when he threw his changeup, and Hellickson can’t be effective against major league hitters without his changeup.

Loose bodies were removed from his pitching elbow during surgery in late January. His rehab was longer than expected. His minor league outings didn’t really prepare him to face major league hitters in midseason form.

But Hellickson didn’t lack confidence during his first three starts with the Rays this season. He just lacked command.

“The command was night and day compared to the last start,” Hellickson said. “It’s just coming and going. Hopefully I can do that again. It’s been a long road. It’s nice to finally contribute to a win.”

Hellickson breezed through the first inning Wednesday on eight pitches. He retired the first nine batters he faced. He allowed two hits, the second a home run by Eric Sogard with one out in the sixth inning. He did not walk a batter.

“That’s Helly, throwing strikes, going after guys,” Desmond Jennings said. “It was good.”

Jose Molina said he knew Hellickson would be on his game when during the first inning when Hellickson pitched inside with his fastball. That sets up his changeup away.

“I knew he was going to have a good game,” Molina said.

Having Hellickson return to his old form will help the rotation over the final 47 games as the Rays try to stay alive in the Wild Card race.

“My thought is now that he’s done it once here, heads up, he could really take off from now on,” Maddon said. “I really believe he could do that on a more consistent basis now that he has got the feeling back.”

Hellickson would love nothing more than to prove Maddon right. But after fighting for consistency from start-to-start, inning-to-inning since last season, Hellickson said he is not looking any farther than his next start Tuesday against the Rangers in Arlington, Texas.

“That’s the plan,” Hellickson said. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. It’s just one game. It felt good. Hopefully I can do it again in five days.”

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