After a solid sophomore campaign, young Jeremy Hellickson has struggled at times in his third year in the Majors.
He will look to solve the streaking San Diego Padres -- who had won four straight before falling to the Rays Friday -- Saturday at Tropicana Field.
In his last outing, against the Blue Jays, Hellickson was spotted a seven-run lead before everything began to fall apart.
"I thought I was doing a good job of getting ahead of guys," Hellickson said. "I just couldn't put away guys with two strikes. It's pretty frustrating."
It is part of a continuing trend with the 26-year-old when he has been given the lead. The Rays have scored 15 runs in his last two starts but have lost them both, including an 8-7 defeat in his last outing. In Hellickson's last three starts, opponents are hitting .417 with three walks and a hit batsman when Tampa Bay has the lead.
"It's tough; you want to go out and throw strikes when the guys give me a lead like that, but at the same time, I don't want to throw it right over the middle," Hellickson said. "I still want to try to keep the ball down and work the corners, and last game, it got me in trouble."
Earlier in the season, the young right-hander had back-to-back outings where he allowed only three hits each, surrendering two runs over 14 innings. Since then, he has allowed 12 earned runs in 16 innings.
"The main thing was just commanding my fastball," Hellickson said. "Other than that, it wasn't much. I try to work my fastball in early and throw everything off that. Recently, I haven't been able to get ahead with it. When I have, it's been fastballs right over the heart of the plate. So I've just got to get back to commanding that and keeping it down."
Taking Clayton Richard's spot in the Padres' rotation will be Burch Smith, who will be making his Major League debut after making just six starts at Double-A.
"I try to be consistent every time out; I'm not doing anything too different from last year," Smith said. "I try to tell myself it's the same game. I like to work up and down, in and out, get ahead with that, let the defense work for me."
Smith had a 1.15 ERA in six starts in San Antonio. A 14th-round Draft pick only two years ago out of the University of Oklahoma, Smith has moved fast.
"He's ready for tomorrow," Padres manager Bud Black said. "He's got a legit fastball; he throws it a lot, which I like. Fundamentally, he's got a good delivery, and he repeats it. It looks like his stride direction is in line with home plate."
"It will be a good test," Black added. "They're [Rays] a good fastball-hitting team."
Padres: Hundley regrets remarks about Grandal
Padres catcher Nick Hundley was quoted in a U-T San Diego article saying that Yasmani Grandal, who played 60 games with the Padres last season, "had a couple of good months on steroids."
"It was completely out of the realm of conversation ... and it wasn't in the context that we were talking," Hundley said before Friday's series opener against the Rays at Tropicana Field.
"But unfortunately, I said it publicly."
Black talked with Hundley about the comment Thursday.
"He's one of the guys on this team with the most tenure, service time," Black said. "Guys look to him for leadership. And I think Yazzy will as well."
Hundley, a six-year member of the Padres, said he had attempted to contact Grandal personally but had yet to speak with him as of Friday afternoon.
Grandal, who is eligible to come off the restricted list May 28, is serving a 50-game suspension for testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone.
Rays: Longoria playing fully healed after hamstring surgery
Evan Longoria's hamstring injury appears to be behind him.
His bat has not suffered this season, but it took a while for the Rays third baseman to return to form in the field.
Rays manager Joe Maddon sees evidence that is indeed the case.
"I think two things: the hard play to his left, when he really gets extended to his left, because he's really good with the ball to his right," Maddon said. "When he gets extended to his left and gets up quickly to make a good throw, that tells me something. And the other one is just a slow roller with the bunt. That's just a hard play. And he makes that play great. But my point is, to be able to do that all the time, his legs have to feel good to do that. He's made a couple of those already."
"I think it's just a product of being more comfortable," Longoria said. "Feeling like my legs are underneath me, and I don't have anything to worry about as far as that goes."
• Friday's contest marked the first time the Padres faced off against the AL East. It is the second series for the Rays against the NL West, after a 2-1 series victory over the Colorado Rockies last weekend.