After Saturday's disastrous outing against Minnesota, almost anything would have been an improvement for Tampa Bay LHP Jeremy Hellickson.
The Rays' No. 3 starter and last year's American League Rookie of the Year was shelled in that outing: 10 earned runs, 11 hits and three home runs in only three innings. Heading into Thursday's game against the Phillies, Hellickson's ERA had ballooned to 15.30.
But in his most impressive start of the spring, Hellickson only gave up one run (a solo home run to Brian Schneider in the fifth inning) in six-plus innings. He threw 109 pitches, 69 for strikes.
"I went into the game thinking it was a regular-season game," said Hellickson, who got a no decision in the Phillies' 2-1 walk-off win. "The plan was to go up to 100 (pitches)."
Usually not much importance is put into spring training games but after his previous outing, Hellickson was definitely looking for improvements.
"It feels good," he said. "My confidence wasn't shot at all. I've been working on things but it felt good to put up the zeros."
Rays manager Joe Maddon was very satisfied with Hellickson's performance.
"(Hellickson) really got into a groove," Maddon said. "He was throwing his fastball down and followed it with a good change-up coming off of that. He had some nice curveballs and worked out of some jams against some pretty good hitters. I thought he did a great job."
After Schneider doubled down the left-field line in the ninth inning and went to third on a single to left by Juan Pierre, Maddon pulled left fielder Matt Joyce and inserted designated hitter Jeff Keppinger as a fifth infielder.
"We work on this so we might as well use it," Maddon said. "Keps was on the bench as the DH … everyone knew what to do. Joyce was already coming in when he saw me walking out to talk to the umpires."
With the bases loaded and the five infielders playing in, pinch-hitter Hector Luna slapped the ball between Keppinger and first baseman Carlos Peña for the winning run.
"It's very unusual for a righty to slice the ball the way he did," Maddon said. "But he got it done and beat us with it."
Jennings is ready
OF Desmond Jennings said he's ready to play every day after making his first start in the field after his March 14 collision with B.J. Upton.
Although he didn't get much of a chance to test his right shoulder, he did have a double and stole a base.
"I had no problems at all," Jennings said. "I'm good to go now."
Jennings' double probably could have been a triple but he missed the base rounding second and had to go back.
"I was (going for third) but I only ran 88 feet and missed the base," said Jennings. "I missed the base and had to put the brakes on."
3B Evan Longoria provided the only run for the Rays with a home run to left field in the fourth inning but struggled the rest of the day, striking out three times, twice looking. … RHP Fernando Rodney said X-rays on his right forearm did not show a fracture. Rodney was struck by a line drive Wednesday. … LHP J.P. Howell and OF Luke Scott played in a minor-league game against Baltimore's Triple-A affiliate. Howell pitched one inning and threw 22 pitches but a fielding error prevented it from being a 1-2-3 inning. Scott went 1-for-3 with a double, a strikeout, a walk and a run scored. RHP Wade Davis was supposed to pitch in this game but threw a bullpen session instead.