Unleashing Hellickson in the stretch will sorely tempt the Rays
"He was Jeremy's favorite player," says his father, Steve. "He wanted to be Jeter."
Hellickson, the Tampa Bay Rays' latest pitching phenom, may now have the chance
An unassuming, undersized, 23-year-old righthander who manager
But for the last week, Hellickson has been throwing out of the bullpen a few miles away from Tropicana Field -- at Class A Port Charlotte -- while prepping for a forthcoming stint as a major league reliever, a la Price in 2008. Hellickson will be back in Tampa soon after major league rosters officially expand on Tuesday, but the Rays plan on holding their phenom back. Between starts at Triple-A Durham and for Tampa, he has amassed 145-2/3 innings this season, and the club has good reason to be concerned about the workload of a baby-faced pitcher who logged a total of 114 innings last season at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Do the suddenly stumbling Padres, who dropped their season-high fifth-straight game on Monday night, push 22-year-old
The Yankees -- who, of course, would greatly prefer to open the playoffs at home as the AL East champs rather than begin their title defense as the wild card and on the road at, say, Texas -- are in a similar predicament with 24-year-old
"A lot of this is more art than science," says an AL executive. "Do you count innings, or should you really count the number of pitches over the year? Is 190 innings suddenly so much worse than 175? Sure, it may be, but we don't know that it is for sure. And what percentage increase from one year to another is a truly risky increase? Even in this day and age, with all these numbers in front of us, no one knows for sure. And if they say they do, they're lying."
Hellickson has the talent to be the Rays' secret weapon down the stretch and beyond, but for now, Tampa's desire to hold its phenom back is clear. Will they, though, keep him bubble-wrapped in the bullpen, even if the division somehow starts slipping away and the Red Sox inch closer? If Rays starters unravel (
"It may be the smart thing to do to hold him back, but I'll tell you one thing, Minnesota, or whatever team they get [in the playoffs], would much rather see the kid [in the bullpen] than the prospect of seeing him start in a short series," says the scout.
Says the AL executive, "No one is going to criticize you for erring on the side of caution, that's for sure. Look how David Price turned out. But it would be an extremely tough thing to swallow if you know that one of your best pitchers is on the bench and not out there when a championship is within your grasp."
A control artist with a fastball that tops out at 94 mph and a plus change-up, Hellickson has dominated at every minor league level and has the makeup of a player who will shine under the hot lights of October. His greatest moment as a Hoover Hawk came on the basketball court during his sophomore year: with a berth in the Iowa state tournament at stake, Hellickson stole an inbounds pass with less than 10 seconds left in a tie game before he was hacked as the clock ran out. A sharpshooting point guard, he then stepped to the line.
"He doesn't say much, he doesn't show much emotion, and he doesn't get fazed by anything," says Steve Hellickson, who operates a forklift in a freezer at a Des Moines shipping company. "Pretty much the most excited I've heard him get this season was when he called [after his second start] and said he walked by
That Hellickson knows how to pitch is becoming abundantly clear. What isn't clear is whether he will -- and