Rays right-hander Jeremy Hellickson is quickly emerging as one of the game's top young hurlers, having been named the American League Pitcher of the Month and the Rookie of the Month in May. A 24-year-old from Iowa, Hellickson, a former Baseball America and USA Today Minor League Player of the Year, has dazzled this season, posting a 7-3 record and a 2.64 ERA. He recently spoke with MLBPLAYERS.com:
06/10/2011 4:59 PM ET
Hellickson pitching well for Rays
Rays rookie righty enjoying strong first half of season
By Jeff Moeller / MLBPLAYERS.com
MLBPLAYERS.com: What are your thoughts on your team's play so far this season?
Jeremy Hellickson: We have struggled some recently, but on the whole we have played some good baseball. We went through something like this earlier in the year, and we stayed confident. I am sure we will figure it out again. We are still in it right now, and we will get on a good winning streak again soon.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Can you comment on your play so far this season?
Hellickson: I feel great. I started out a little slow as I was struggling to find the zone and throw strikes. I have worked a lot of late with our pitching coach, Jim Hickey, and he has told me to throw my fastball a little bit more. That is what I have done my last four or five starts, and it has been working. When it gets later in the game, and they have seen my changeup a few times, the fastball has been there and working for me. I feel real confident right now with all my pitches.
MLBPLAYERS.com: The changeup is your pitch. What does that pitch do for you?
Hellickson: It is a pitch I can throw at any time. I have that much confidence in it. I probably have more confidence in it than I do my fastball. It's a pitch that keeps hitters off balance because it looks just like a fastball. It is coming in with four-seam spin, just slower.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Do you work your fastball off your changeup?
Hellickson: I think it is the other way around. The changeup works off the fastball traditionally and that is something that I was struggling with early. I was trying to throw my fastball off my changeup and, when I needed my fastball, it wasn't there. I was all over the place with it. Now, I am trying to establish my fastball a little earlier in the game. Then, I work my changeup off of that.
MLBPLAYERS.com: As a rookie last year, you pitched in 10 games as a starter and reliever. So far this year, you have pitched only as a starter. How do the two experiences compare?
Hellickson: This year, I feel a little more comfortable. Last year, I was getting my feet wet. Still, I felt great last year. I just wasn't getting the results I wanted. This year, especially the last month or so, I have felt real good and real confident. Establishing the fastball early has been the key.
MLBPLAYERS.com: That bullpen experience was the first of your career, right?
Hellickson: It was. I think I found a routine that worked for me. I can't really tell you what it was. As a starter you get a feel for the game. You know you will be out there for a while, and it might take an inning or two to get all your pitches going. As a reliever, you might only get one inning to pitch. That is not what I was used to. I felt good and I had a routine, it's just that the results weren't there and I don't know why.
MLBPLAYERS.com: One of your teammates, Johnny Damon, was quoted recently as being impressed with your composure on the mound. Is that something that you have focused on a lot?
Hellickson: Yes. I don't try and show too much emotion out there. It is a different ballgame up here, and they [opposing players] will pick up on that quickly if you do show any type of emotion on the mound -- especially if you are struggling. They will bury you with five runs before you know it. It is about being even-keeled and staying composed. Just worry about the batter you are facing there and then.
MLBPLAYERS.com: What has a guy like Damon brought to this team?
Hellickson: He is going to be a Hall of Famer. When you bring a guy like that to a clubhouse full of young guys, it is awesome. I don't think you could have brought in a better player than him. He is hitting like he always does, and he brings a lot of fun to the clubhouse. He is always upbeat, and he always keeps us going.
MLBPLAYERS.com: Another teammate, Matt Joyce, is enjoying quite a year with the bat, isn't he?
Hellickson: He has one of the best swings I have ever seen. It was just a matter of time before he started doing what he is doing now. I played with him some last year in Triple-A Durham, and he has always been a good hitter. He is getting his at-bats, he is competing in the lineup every day, and it was just a matter of time in my opinion.
MLBPLAYERS.com: And what are your thoughts on David Price, who fronts your rotation?
Hellickson: He is the total package. He is definitely the type of ace you want on your team. He works hard, and he is always pushing us. That also goes for James Shields. Those guys have now been around for a while, and they know what it takes to be successful. They are both great guys to learn from, and I have learned a lot and I continue to learn a lot from them.
Jeff Moeller is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.