ST. PETERSBURG — Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson returns to the mound tonight for the first time since Oct. 8, when he started Game 4 of the AL division series against the Red Sox.
“I’m really anxious,” Hellickson said.
He missed the first 92 games of the season after having right elbow surgery in late January to remove loose bodies in the joint. It was originally thought Hellickson would miss the first six to eight weeks of the season, but soreness in the elbow nearly doubled that time frame.
Hellickson said the soreness he feels after a start is the typical muscle fatigue, where as last year he couldn’t bend his elbow the day after he pitched.
“I think everything is going to be better, because I don’t have it in the back of my head. I don’t feel it on every pitch, it’s not sore every pitch,” Hellickson said. “I just think being able to extend on my change-up and fastball and get on top of my curveball a little bit better will hopefully make everything a little better.”
Hellickson allowed 15 runs in 182⁄3 innings during his five rehab starts for Triple-A Durham. His fourth start was cut short by soreness in his right elbow, though Hellickson said that went away after one day of rest.
Hellickson is aware his numbers at Durham do not look good.
“The first couple (of starts) it didn’t matter what happened. I just wanted to get out there and get my work in. The last one was pretty good, but the two before that I wasn’t really working on stuff, I was trying to get outs and it still wasn’t happening,” he said. “I felt they should have been a lot better than they were.”
Now he joins a team that is enjoying its best stretch of the season.
“I don’t really have time to work through that stuff,” Hellickson said. “The way we’re playing right now, I have to give us a chance to win right away. I can’t think about what I did down there, I have to come out and give us a chance.”
THE BEDARD DECISION
LHP Erik Bedard, originally scheduled to start tonight, will head to the bullpen as Hellickson makes his season debut. Rays manager Joe Maddon said Bedard could provide insurance if Hellickson has a short outing.
Maddon also said Bedard could serve as the long man in the bullpen, freeing LHP Cesar Ramos for higher-leverage moments. But for how long? The Rays are carrying an extra pitcher right now. That will go away when SS Yunel Escobar (sore right shoulder) is activated from the disabled list Friday.
“There’s still things to be talked about as we continue along,” Maddon said.
RAYS INK PROSPECT
The Rays signed Dominican SS Adrian Rondon on Monday, giving the top international prospect a $2.95 million bonus on his 16th birthday.
To do so, the Rays traded minor-league RHP Matt Ramsey to the Marlins for Miami’s second, third and fourth international bonus slots, which amounts to just over $1 million.
“For his age, he’s the best hitter in Latin America,” Rays Dominican Republic scouting supervisor Daniel Santana said in a statement. “He’s a solid defender, solid average arm already that will be well above average. He’s an above-average runner right now, too. He has instincts that are above average and it leaves a great impression to watch him play the game.”
MIXED FEELINGS FOR MCGEE
LHP Jake McGee said he was disappointed not to be named to the American League All-Star team Sunday and is holding out hope he might be added to the roster should an opening arise.
“I thought it was a good possibility with the numbers I put up this year,” McGee said. “I figured it was a pretty strong case to make the All-Star team, but when it came down to it I didn’t make it.”
On the flip side, McGee’s wife, Morgan, is scheduled to be induced Wednesday evening and deliver the couple’s first child Thursday.
“I’ll be able to spend more time with my daughter during the All-Star break,” McGee said. “I want to focus on that, too.”
RHP Chris Archer, 10 News and Good Sports will combine to donate $29,000 worth of new sports and fitness equipment today to the Tampa Parks & Recreation Department. ... Escobar’s rehab assignment Monday with the Gulf Coast League Rays was rained out. He will play shortstop tonight for Class A Charlotte.