ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Jeremy Hellickson found success again at Tropicana Field and helped the Tampa Bay Rays stay hot.
Hellickson pitched seven strong innings for his first home win in three months and the Rays beat the Kansas City Royals 5-1 on Monday night.
“I thought I was really good,” Hellickson said. “Got ahead of guys. Curveball was pretty good. Just threw strikes for the most part.”
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Hellickson (8-8) allowed one run and six hits in ending a stretch of seven consecutive home winless starts, dating back to a 2-1 victory over Boston on May 16.
“It all started with the pitching,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “I think (Hellickson) set the tone. He was sharp.”
Tampa Bay was coming off an 8-2 road trip that concluded with a four-game sweep over the Los Angeles Angels. The Rays had a 3.73 ERA before the All-Star break but have had 2.32 ERA since, lowering their season mark to an AL-best 3.31
Tampa Bay went ahead 4-1 in the fourth on Jose Labaton’s RBI single and a run-scoring double from Desmond Jennings off Will Smith (4-5).
Hellickson worked out of a two-on, no-out jam in the sixth. The right-hander appeared to have induced a double-play grounder from Billy Butler, but second baseman Ryan Roberts throw after recording an out at second broke through the webbing on first baseman Jeff Keppinger’s glove and wound up behind the bag. Unfazed, Hellickson then got an inning-ending double-play from the next batter, Salvador Perez.
“I’m sure that glove may have Kepp’s first first baseman’s glove,” Maddon said. “It had the old Rawlings label on it, so it was an old glove.”
Hellickson was the losing pitcher in his last start — despite allowing one run over seven innings — last Wednesday against Seattle when Felix Hernandez threw the Mariners’ first perfect game.
“I got some runs early and it’s always nice,” Hellickson said.
Tampa Bay reliever J.P. Howell worked a scoreless eighth to extend his team record scoreless streak to 25 2-3 innings. Kyle Farnsworth got the final three outs in a non-save situation.
Elliot Johnson put the Rays ahead 1-0 on a run-scoring single in the second. Jennings hit a third-inning triple and scored on Smith’s wild pitch as Tampa Bay took a 2-1 lead.
Smith lasted just 3 2-3 innings, giving up four runs and eight hits. The left-hander had won his previous two starts, allowing two runs over seven innings in games against both Baltimore and Oakland.
“After the first inning, I was just bad,” Smith said. “No location, no breaking ball, which really hurt. I was falling behind too much. I just wasn’t any good. You have those days but you hate having them.”
Keppinger extended the Rays’ advantage to 5-1 with a fifth-inning solo homer.
Kansas City tied it at 1-all on Alex Gordon’s RBI infield single during the third. The Royals completed a 5-1 homestand on Sunday, which included a three-game sweep over the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox this past weekend.
“We’re playing well, but it’s a tough place to play and they’re playing very, very well,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Their starting pitching’s outstanding.”
Notes: Maddon expects 3B Evan Longoria, who has been limited to DH since returning from a partially torn left hamstring on Aug. 7, will play defense later this week. Longoria was rested Monday night. … Kansas City RHP Luke Hochevar (7-11) and Tampa Bay LHP David Price (16-4) are Tuesday night’s scheduled starters. Hochevar is 0-2 with an 11.20 ERA in three career road starts against the Rays. … Tampa Bay DH Luke Scott (strained right oblique) could rejoin the team Tuesday. … Gordon had two hits in three at-bats. He entered the game 2 for 53 at Tropicana Field.