Rays pitching prodigy flashes talent in two innings for U.S. Team
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HEIM -- Rays prospect Jeremy Hellickson has never shied away from big moments during his heralded Minor League career.
After all, the right-hander pitched five scoreless innings in last year's Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game, earning MVP honors in the Durham Bulls' 5-4 win over the Memphis Redbirds.
And Hellickson, who was ranked No. 20 on MLB.com's top prospect list before the season, has a sterling 48-15 record and 2.62 ERA over six seasons in the Minors.
But the 23-year-old pitched on his biggest stage yet on Sunday when he started for the U.S. Team in the XM All-Star Futures Game at Angel Stadium -- and again he shined.
Hellickson allowed one run on two hits over two innings and was the winning pitcher in the U.S. Team's 9-1 win over the World Team.
"It was a huge honor," Hellickson said. "You look around and see the talent in here, so to start this game meant a lot."
Hellickson, though, didn't even realize he was credited as the winning pitcher until well after the game.
"I didn't even know I got the win," Hellickson said with a laugh. "I didn't even know it worked like that. It's cool."
Hellickson flashed his 94-mph fastball and worked in his curveball, changeup and cutter to keep hitters guessing.
He retired the side in order in the first inning before running into some trouble in the second, when he allowed a pair of singles to Giants prospect Francisco Peguero and Tigers prospect Wilkin Ramirez. Peguero scored on an RBI groundout by Pirates prospect Gorkys Hernandez.
But true to Hellickson's style, he didn't walk a batter. Eighteen of his 25 pitchers went for strikes and he fanned Reds prospect Yonder Alonso on a 2-2 changeup to end the first inning.
He's certainly been a control artist this season with Triple-A Durham, as he is 11-2 with a 2.21 ERA and has struck out 104 batters compared to only 26 walks in 105 2/3 innings.
It's only a matter of time before he'll be called up by the Rays, but Hellickson said he's fine starting out as a reliever once called up, just like fellow Rays pitcher David Price. The southpaw served as a reliever when he was called up in 2008 and is now a candidate to start for the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game.
"I'll do whatever they want," Hellickson said. "If it's coming out of the bullpen to eat up innings or to come in for a big spot, I just want to be there."
Hellickson wasn't the only Rays prospect to participate. Durham teammate Desmond Jennings started in center field for the U.S. Team and scored three runs, while Double-A left-hander Alex Torres threw a scoreless inning for the World Team.
Jennings, who was ranked No. 6 on MLB.com's top prospect list before the season, said it was fun seeing Hellickson out on the mound in the first inning because it reminded him of Triple-A.
"With him starting the game it felt like a regular game," Jennings said. "So it was fun and a great experience. It's a great time playing with these guys. We had a very talented team."