Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon warned anyone who would listen not to underestimate Jeremy Hellickson on eve of his showdown with Zack Greinke as the 2009 AL Cy Young winner prepared to make his first start for the Los Angeles Angels.
As things turned out, Hellickson outpitched Greinke on Sunday with six innings of two-hit ball in a 2-0 victory that gave the Rays the finale of the three-game series.
Hellickson has won consecutive starts for the first time since April 19-25, when he beat the Yankees 9-4 and followed that up with a 3-2 victory over the Angels. He was 0-6 with a 4.29 ERA in nine starts preceding these last two outings.
"Throwing strikes was the main thing," Hellickson said. "The last two games I've been attacking the hitters better than I have been. Having no walks is huge for me. I was getting ahead of guys, and the defense was making good plays for me."
Hellickson (6-6) struck out five and walked none. He retired 15 of his first 16 batters, allowing only Maicer Izturis' leadoff single in the fourth. The Angels' other hit off him was a leadoff single by Chris Iannetta in the sixth — a liner that deflected off the glove of diving second baseman Ben Zobrist.
"He's got good stuff," Angels left fielder Vernon Wells said. "He threw a little harder today than he normally does. He's a good pitcher. He keeps you off-balance and makes you hit his changeup, which is a good one."
Hellickson was under the weather the entire game, which was the reason for his early exit.
"I give him a lot of credit. I know he was struggling through the whole thing, and it was hot out there. So it made no sense to send him back out there," Maddon said. "He was chalkier than a Des Moines winter. You could see that his face was a little bit red. It's not easy when you're ill to go out in that kind of heat and keep your wits about you."
Hellickson acknowledged that he threw up five times during the game, a stat that won't show up on his overall pitching line.
"It was hot today, and that was probably the reason," Hellickson said. "I just had a little stomach ache and got a little lightheaded there toward the end. I felt good enough to go out there. I took some stuff before the game, but it kind of caught up with me those last few innings. I felt I had to give us five or six to save the bullpen. My arm felt good, and that's all I really needed."
What Greinke needed more than anything were runs. But the Angels were shut out for the second consecutive game — the first time that's happened since May 3-4 against Toronto at the "Big A." Their 11th shutout loss tied Oakland for the most in the majors.
"I think everybody was anxious to get Zack on the mound and see him in an Angels uniform," Wells said. "He did what he was supposed to do. We just didn't score runs for him."
Greinke (0-1) allowed two runs and seven hits in seven innings and struck out eight. He gave up an RBI single to Matt Joyce in the sixth and threw a run-scoring wild pitch in the seventh after Carlos Pena doubled and advanced on a groundout.
"I made a lot of good pitches — but some bad ones, too," Greinke said. "I thought my fastball command could have been a lot better. I was pretty upset with the first-pitch curve ball to Pena. The wild pitch was just a bad break. No catcher in the world would have stopped that one. You throw a two-strike slider down and hope that doesn't happen."
Greinke, eligible for free agency after the season, was acquired on Friday in a trade that sent rookie infielder Jean Segura and Double-A right-handers Ariel Pena and Johnny Hellweg to Milwaukee. He was 9-3 with a 3.44 ERA in 21 starts with the Brewers.
"Hopefully I'll win a bunch of games and it becomes a fun season," Greinke said. "Everything's just happened pretty fast — traveling here, meeting a bunch of new people, going over things with the catcher and having a day game instead of a night game, which would have made it easier to get adjusted. So a lot of stuff was going on. But once you get on the mound, it's the same game no matter where you're pitching and who it's against."
Kyle Farnsworth and Joel Peralta followed with a perfect inning each, and Fernando Rodney got three outs for his 30th save in 31 attempts, tying Baltimore's Jim Johnson for the AL lead. With runners on first and second, Rodney fell behind Albert Pujols 3-0 in the count before throwing a called strike and inducing a game-ending, double-play grounder on a changeup away.
"There's a lot of pressure situations out there. So when you've got a guy like Pujols up there, you've got to make your pitch," Rodney said. "I just tried to make a good pitch and get a ground ball with something away. He tried to pull it and I got a ground ball."
... Angels rookie Mike Trout, who leads the AL with a .350 average, missed the game because of a sore left knee. He was injured Saturday night when he tried to make a leaping catch against the fence in left-center field on a home run by Zobrist.
NOTES: Desmond Jennings, who had never faced Greinke in a regular-season game, lined his first pitch into left field for a single. ... In his first game with the Brewers, Greinke lost 8-0 before going 6-0 in his next seven starts. ... The Rays return to Anaheim for a four-game series beginning Aug. 16.