Much-touted right-hander Jeremy Hellickson made his major league debut Monday at Tropicana Field, mostly as a way for the regular Rays rotation to take a needed breather. After the youngster's performance against the formerly red-hot Twins, those regulars could be forgiven for taking a few backward glances over their shoulders at the guy behind them.
Hellickson gave up just three hits and two walks in seven innings, allowing two runs and striking out six. He retired the first ten batters he faced before walking Alexi Casilla in the fourth. Casilla came around to score on singles by Delmon Young and Jason Kubel, but Hellickson struck out Michael Cuddyer and Jim Thome to end the threat.
In the fifth, J.J. Hardy walked and Drew Butera was hit with a pitch with one out, but Hellickson retired both Denard Span and Casilla to end the inning - and that was it for Twins rallies. Jason Kubel would club a solo home run in the sixth to put a damper on the start, but otherwise, Hellickson was masterful.
On the other side, Carl Pavano had to work to get through six innings allowing only four runs. Pavano gave up nine hits and two walks, but pitched out of several jams, and got some help from Butera throwing out two base-stealers. In the fifth, though, even a combination of the two couldn't keep the Rays down. Jason Bartlett singled to lead off the inning, but was immediately cut down stealing by Butera. Catcher John Jaso responded with a double to right and was driven home by a Carl Crawford double. After an Evan Longoria walk, Matt Joyce slapped a 3-2 double of his own off the left-field wall, and the Rays had turned a 1-1 game into a 4-1 lead.
Joyce's two-run double was the biggest hit of the game for the Rays, but B.J. Upton was perhaps their star, going 3-4 and stealing three bases, including two steals of third.
Kubel homered and drove in the Twins' other run, going 2-4 on the night.
Jim Thome was 0-4 and struck out three times; it'll be nice that Hellickson can tell his grandkids that he struck out a Hall of Famer twice in his first start, I guess.
The 5-9 hitters - Cuddyer, Thome, Danny Valencia, Hardy, and Butera - combined for zero hits. Scoring two runs is actually kind of impressive, with that output.