As Jeremy Hellickson goes, so go the Rays. The Tampa Bay starter’s performance has closely mirrored the team’s trends; when the Rays are hot, he’s hot, and when the bats fall silent, he’s liable to give up a big inning.
Good news for Hellickson, then, that the Rays (68-51) are hoping to turn back-to-back wins into a longer streak on Friday when they take on Toronto, the current American League East cellar dweller.
"Hopefully, I can figure it out [Friday]," Hellickson said. "I feel good. My stuff feels good. I just have to throw more strikes and have better command. If I’m able to do that, I’ll be OK."
The Blue Jays (56-65) are coming off a pair of wins themselves, and will trot out reigning National League Cy Young Award-winner R.A. Dickey to duel with Hellickson. They’ll need a long start from the knuckleballer, as the bullpen threw 11 2/3 innings in the club’s three-game series with Boston.
"Those guys are pretty gassed," manager John Gibbons said.
The Rays have had to rely on their bullpen lately as well. Tampa Bay’s starters have lasted just five innings or fewer in six of the club’s last seven games. Prior to this stretch, Rays starters had lasted at least five innings in 32 straight games — including seven complete games — while compiling a 2.21 ERA to lead the Major Leagues.
Dickey has been up to the challenge of late, lasting at least six innings in his last 10 starts. In that span, he’s lowered his ERA from 5.15 to 4.46, while holding opposing batters to a .235 batting average.
Thursday’s stormy weather in Boston did not allow the Rays an opportunity to pull into first place in the American League East.
The Rays, who currently trail the division-leading Red Sox by a half-game, will return to Boston on Monday to make up the postponed game, but not before they play a three-game series with the Yankees beginning on Friday night in the Bronx.
New York’s lineup may take on a different look by the time Tampa Bay arrives, as a deal to send outfielder Alfonso Soriano from the Cubs to the Yankees appeared imminent on Thursday evening. Soriano began his career with the Yankees and was selected to two All-Star teams before being traded to Texas for Alex Rodriguez in February 2004.
CC Sabathia will be making his 22nd start of the season for the Yankees, but he’ll be hoping for a reversal of fortune. The ace left-hander has not won since July 3, and he labored through his last outing, giving up seven runs on nine hits over five innings on Sunday in Boston.
Jeremy Hellickson will make Friday’s start for the Rays. The Rays have not lost a game started by Hellickson since June 13, and the big inning that haunted the right-hander early in the season appears to be an issue he has overcome.
Hellickson, who has won seven of his last nine starts, said he is starting to feel more sure of himself.
"I feel good," Hellickson said. "I made a little adjustment on the mound, and my fastball command got a lot better. I just got a little more confidence in it, and things started turning around."
The three-game series represents the Yankees’ first in the Bronx since the All-Star break. New York will not return to Yankee Stadium until facing the Tigers on Aug. 9.