Jeremy Hellickson: Rays Pitcher Is Definitely an AL Rookie of the Year Candidate

Jamal WilburgCorrespondent IMay 29, 2011

ST PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 17:  Pitcher Jeremy Hellickson #58 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Minnesota Twins during the game at Tropicana Field on April 17, 2011 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
J. Meric/Getty Images

Jeremy Hellickson took the mound Sunday afternoon for the Tampa Bay Rays against the Cleveland Indians and displayed why he should be the American League Rookie of the Year.

Hellickson pitched seven scoreless innings as the Rays defeated the Indians 7-0 on Sunday. He recorded six strikeouts and only gave up three hits and two walks.

He finished his day by retiring 10 of the last 11 batters he faced.

“He’s definitely a rookie of the year candidate,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said following Sunday’s game. “His numbers are fantastic I really believe as he gains more experience you can see him get even better.”

His numbers are fantastic indeed.

Hellickson has a 5-1 record in his last six starts with a 1.83 ERA. He has held opponents to a dismal .181 batting average. He also has not allowed a run in his last 18 innings pitched at Tropicana Field and in four starts has lowered his home ERA to 2.19.

Even with those accomplishments, there is still some improvement for Hellickson to make with his fastball command.

“He has not been as sharp with his fastball command as he can be,” Maddon said, “So once that arrives, heads up. I still think there is a level to go with him and it is all based on command of his fastball.”

Rays catcher John Jaso also felt that Hellickson’s fastball command is all that he is missing. “Oh man, he can be as good as any pitcher in the big leagues," Jaso said.

"He keeps hitters really off balance with that changeup. With the fastball command it was awesome to see him.”

Even Hellickson recognized the need for improvement with his fastball command. “Fastball command was a little shaky,” Hellickson said after Sunday’s game.

“The curveball and changeup kept me in the ballgame until the fastball came around in the last few innings.”

Four of Hellickson’s six strikeouts were on the change-up.

If Hellickson maintains this level of performance or better for the remainder of the season it will be very hard to justify another player in the American League for the Rookie of the Year honors.

Jamal Wilburg is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first-hand.