Rays righthander Jeremy Hellickson has already done something this season that he didn't do last year–pitch in a minor league game in early April.
Last year, it took Hellickson until April 24 to make his first start of the season with low Class A Columbus. When he did start pitching, he outmatched South Atlantic League hitters, posting a 2.67 ERA and a 106-34 K-BB ratio In 111 1/3 innings. He pitched well all year, and his command took a step up in the season's final two months, when Hellickson had 55 strikeouts and 12 walks in 52 innings.
"He's starting to figure out what spring training is about," Rays pitching coordinator Dick Bosman said. "He's finally figuring out that winter time is when you get stronger and you prepare for spring training, so that when you go to spring training, you prepare for the season. And the last couple years before this one, he kind of used spring training and extended spring to get ready for the year. This year he has responded very well."
Hellickson's 2008 season line only includes two games, but he's been impressive in both starts. He opened with a five-inning performance against St. Lucie, allowing one run (on a solo homer) on five strikeouts, no walks and five hits. Hellickson followed that by allowing one run in six innnings at Jupiter on Wednesday, finishing with five strikeouts and one walk to give him a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings so far.
"I just pulled up the report on (Wednesday's) game and he was real good, threw 82 pitches, I believe, and it was June or July last year before he was able to throw 80-something pitches."
Bosman was Hellickson's pitching coach in Hudson Valley in 2006, when Hellickson ranked as the league's top prospect. He had a 2.43 ERA with a 96-16 K-BB ratio for the Renegades that year.
"He's sneaky fast," Bosman said. He's easy 95 (mph), and it doesn't look like he's exerting himself at all to do it. Good curveball, good changeup. He's not real big, but he's a strong kid."