Watching Jeremy Hellickson pitch is like watching two different players when he’s starting versus when he’s coming out of the bullpen. He’s used to being a starter, and the transition to the bullpen is probably different for everyone.
But after he came in for Wade Davis in Thursday’s rain-interrupted game against the Yankees and earned the win, it’s becoming more and more obvious that he’s a starter and prepared for high-pressure situations.
Hellickson dazzled in his first four starts when Davis and Jeff Niemann were on the disabled list. He went 3-0 and had a no decision in his fourth start, a 5-4 loss to Oakland. His ERA was 2.05 with 25 strikeouts and just four walks in 26.1 innings pitched.
Out of the bullpen, his ERA is 9.54. So that’s 2.05 as a starter and 9.54 out of the bullpen.
Granted, the Rays were faced with a dilemma when Davis and Niemann were ready to return to the lineup. And no one knew Niemann was going to come back and wet the bed. If they wanted Hellickson in the rotation, they would have had to boot either Davis or Niemann, which neither deserved.
But the Rays are faced with another tough decision in who to have in the postseason rotation. They are likely to take three, maybe four pitchers for the ALDS rotation and when you look at the all the starters, the selection process should probably be based on who’s performed the best and not so much on the body of work.
David Price is in without question and will get the first start of the postseason.
After that it gets a little fuzzy. Matt Garza has lost three straight starts and six of his last 10. Basically, he’s not done a whole lot since his no-hitter on July 26. His ERA is up to an OK 4.01, but he’s a big game pitcher and probably has the second-best stuff on the rotation behind Price.
James Shields, who somehow earned the nickname "Big Game" without having won big games that immediately come to mind, has a 4.96 ERA and has been decent in August and September with a 4-4 record and two no-decisions. His biggest win of the season was arguably his first in August when he pitched 7.1 innings against the Yankees and struck out 11. Unfortunately, that version of Shields doesn’t show up nearly enough.
Davis has been solid for most of the season despite going on the disabled list with a shoulder injury in August. June was a disaster as all five of his starts ended up as losses. Davis isn’t going to wow you with strikeouts, but he provides a better back end to the rotation than most teams have. A back end pitcher, however, isn’t what you need in the postseason rotation.
And there’s just no way Niemann is making the cut. His start (and win) against Seattle Friday night was his best performance since returning from the disabled list but he’s not pitching well enough.
When you look at the numbers, Hellickson in the bullpen just doesn’t seem to be where he should be. Certainly the Rays would love to have him as their secret weapon as they did David Price in 2008, but it’s not a role Hellickson has taken to.
An August call-up like Hellickson could also provide scouting problems for opposing teams. And especially when the rest of the starters aside from Price have been shaky toward the end of the season, Hellickson in the postseason rotation appears to make a lot of sense.