When Jeremy Hellickson made his major league debut for the Rays on August 2nd in a one-off spot start against the Minnesota Twins, it was like a "look what we can do" sneak peak at the future of the American League arms race. Sort of like the Navy taking a brand-new aircraft carrier for a sunset cruise off the coast of North Korea. But this time...it's serious.
No matter what manager Joe Maddon says about "minimal", "precautionary" stints on the DL for Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, when you're a pennant contender and 40% of your starting rotation is suddenly on the shelf in the middle of August, it's a serious matter.
This time, Hellickson is not going to get a pat on the head with a "nice job, kid, see you in September", win or lose. It's a different world than it was a mere eight days ago and the Rays expect him to win, right now. Because the other "new" starter is going to be Andy Sonnanstine, and well...no offense, Sonny is a serviceable pitcher and has done some nice work out of the bullpen, but he's not Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann so Hellickson kind of needs to be both of them. His performance, maybe more than any other Ray right now, is liable to have a direct impact on where the Rays finish the 2010 season.
Sneaking in under the radar (to continue the inane military analogies): Reliever Mike Ekstrom, who won't face nearly the level of expectation placed on Hellickson, has got to perform closer to the 5-1 with a 2.13 ERA in 34 appearances for Durham than the 0-1 and 8.53 ERA he posted previously in six appearances with the big club.