PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Rookie Jeremy Hellickson remains on course to open the season in Tampa Bay's pitching rotation.
The 23-year-old right-hander, shut down for two weeks of spring training because of tightness in his right hamstring, allowed two runs and five hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Saturday. He threw 82 pitches in the longest of the four exhibition starts he'll make against major league hitters.
Manager Joe Maddon said Hellickson will pitch in a minor league game next Thursday and is on track to take his scheduled turn in the rotation on April 6 at home against the Los Angeles Angels.
``I'll be ready,' said Hellickson, whose development is one of the reasons the AL East champions were comfortable with trading Matt Garza, last year's No. 2 starter, to the Chicago Cubs.
``Everything feels good,' he said. ``Fastball command is struggling a little bit right now, but I'll get that back.'
Brian Roberts hit a solo homer off Hellickson in the third inning, and Vladimir Guerrero's two-run shot off Cesar Ramos snapped a 2-all tie and was the big blow in Baltimore's five-run eighth.
Hellickson, one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, walked two and struck out three before reaching his pitch limit. He'll likely throw 90-plus pitches in his next outing.
``I thought he was pretty good. Not as sharp as he can be overall, but pretty good,' Maddon said. ``It was a nice tuneup. He just needs to sharpen up fastball command.'
Hellickson became the first pitcher in franchise history to win his first three major league starts last summer. He made six appearances out of the bullpen in September, finishing 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10 games.
While Maddon the young right-hander fastball command was not as good as it figures to be ``in a couple of more times out,' the manager was impressed with his changeup and curve.
``I've got one more start here, then I'll be ready for the 6th,' Hellickson said.
Orioles right-hander Ryan Drese allowed two runs and five hits in three innings. Jason Berken, Josh Rupe and David Riske each worked two scoreless innings.
Ben Zobrist had a solo homer for Tampa Bay, which also got a RBI single from B.J. Upton.
NOTES: Rays 1B Casey Kotchman, INF Joe Inglett, OF Chris Carter, INF Ray Olmedo, C Craig Albernaz, INF Felipe Lopz and OF Justin Ruggiano were reassigned to minor league camp. C Jose Lobaton was optioned to Triple-A Durham. ... The Rays made former major league second baseman Glenn Beckert, who resides in nearby Englewood, an honorary coach for the day.
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