PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - Jeremy Hellickson's delayed spring training debut for the Tampa Bay Rays was worth the wait.
The rookie right-hander, slowed since the opening week of camp by a strained right hamstring, pitched one perfect inning during an 8-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday.
Last summer Hellickson became the first pitcher in franchise history to win his first three major league starts. He made six appearances out of the bullpen in September, finishing 4-0 with a 3.47 ERA in 10 games.
The 23-year-old's development is one of the reasons the Rays were comfortable with trading No. 2 starter Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs this winter.
``I was very anxious to get out there. It's been a long time,' said Hellickson, who struck out the first batter he faced, Garrett Jones, then fielded Cory Wimberly's bunt and got Pedro Alvarez to pop to third base to end a 10-pitch fifth inning.
``I felt pretty good. It's just good to get back on the mound, to throw to hitters,' Hellickson said. ``I just wanted to go out and throw strikes. I did a good job of that.'
Even before the impressive outing, Rays manager Joe Maddon said he was confident the young right-hander was on track to be ready to open the season in the starting rotation.
Garza was the MVP of the AL championship series in 2008 and helped Tampa Bay win its second AL East title in three years last season. Yet the way Hellickson performed in three separate stints in 2010 convinced the club that Garza was expendable.
``I'm not going to step in and do what Garza's done the last few years. But I guess it's nice to know that they had confidence in me,' the rookie said. ``I think it was a move that was good for both teams. I'm just happy to be in the rotation.'
Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen left the game because of discomfort in his left wrist. Right-hander James McDonald's outing was cut short by discomfort in his left side. The team said the injuries were still being evaluated and their status would be updated on Saturday.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle would not discuss how the players were injured or speculate about the severity.
``I don't talk about injuries. We usually make a statement. ... I'm not a doctor. Normally the information doesn't get accurate until later on,' Hurdle said.
McCutchen - 2 for 2 with one RBI and a run scored - left after two innings. McDonald made his third spring start and allowed two runs and four hits before being replaced after facing two batters in the third inning.
The teams combined for 29 hits. Pittsburgh's John Bowker hit the only homer, a two-run shot off Kyle Farnsworth during a three-run sixth inning.
Tampa Bay starter Wade Davis had a rough outing, yielding four runs, seven hits and walking two in three innings.
``Wade was fine. The results weren't there entirely, but I thought he through the ball fine,' Maddon said.
Hellickson likely will work two or three innings - about 45 pitches - in his next outing.
``I thought he looked extremely sharp,' Maddon said. ``Everything was working.'
NOTES: The Pirates broke a 7-7 tie on Steve Pearce's ninth-inning single. ... RHP Matt Bush was among the first wave of cuts announced by the Rays. The converted shortstop and seven others - LHP Alex Torres, RHPs Brian Baker, Jonah Bayliss, Richard De Los Santos, Ricky Orta and Albert Suarez, and OF Brandon Guyer - were reassigned to minor league camp.
The Associated Press News Service
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