Insider: Rays’ Young Starters Have Rough Series

With David Price and James Shields anchoring the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation, the club has one of the best lefty/righty duos in the major leagues. If everything goes correctly, Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson will one day be that left/right combination at the top of future rotations. While we have seen flashes of brilliance from both of the Rays’ young starters, this past weekend was a reminder that while the sometime seem like finished products, there is work to be done.

Hellickson took the no decision on Saturday after allowing three runs on five hits and three walks. Although he threw 102 pitches against the Oakland Athletics, he failed to finish the fourth inning. Hellickson was not hit particularly hard – sans for a Josh Reddick home run, but could not put the A’s hitters away in efficient ways.

After working a 2-2 count to Reddick in the first inning, Hellickson threw five more pitches in the at-bat. The final, an 80 MPH changeup, was deposited over the right field wall. Oakland worked five plate appearances of seven or more pitches, reaching base in four of them. Overall, the 25-year-old threw 34 pitches after reaching two strikes. Of those 34, only eight of them were his signature changeup.

As a byproduct of not finishing individual battles, the reigning Rookie of the Year struggled to end innings as well. Following the first two outs of an inning, Hellickson allowed four of his five hits and issued all three of his walks. The extra plate appearances took a toll on his pitch count as 61 of the 102 pitches he threw came after 2 outs were recorded in the inning.

Following Hellickson, Matt Moore failed to finish the fifth inning for the first time as a major-league starter on Sunday afternoon. The left-hander rolled through the first inning on 10 pitches, but needed 95 pitches over his final 3.2 innings. “He just got out-of-whack” said Rays’ manager Joe Maddon. “He couldn’t throw a strike where he wanted to with the fastball—the fastball command was not there” he added.

Similar to Hellickson, Moore threw a number of two-strike pitches (28). The large majority of those pitches were elevated fastballs. Also like Hellickson, Moore suffered the most damage with two outs in the inning. All eight of the runs allowed by Moore came with two outs. The A’s belted five, two-out hits including three for extra-bases. The biggest blow came off the bat of Brandon Inge, who hit a three-run home run with two outs in the third inning.

Like his other starts his season, Moore was able to throw strikes; however, he had trouble locating within the strike zone. He left a number of fastballs up in the zone to right-handers and hung a few down the middle to lefties. In a bit of a surprise, left-handers are hitting .429/.487/.629 against Moore this season (40 PA). One thing to note, Moore stands on the extreme third-side of the rubber to help him pitch in to right-handed batters, but it may give lefties a better look as well.

As the reigning Rookie of the Year and the top pitching prospect in baseball, a lot of expectations have been laid at the feet of Hellickson and Moore. This weekend was a nice reminder that for all the positives we are expecting, we must remember that there will be speed bumps along the way. The good news is both pitchers are extremely talented – and perhaps even more importantly – possess pitching savvy well beyond their age. As long as they made the proper adjustments and continue to exhibit good process, the results should follow and weekends like this will remain the exception and not the rule.