Jeremy Hellickson struck out six over seven strong innings Monday as the Tampa Bay Rays topped the Kansas City Royals, 5-1, in the opener of a three-game set at Tropicana Field.
Hellickson (8-8) allowed just one run on six hits and a walk to earn his first home victory since May 16, a span of seven winless starts.
"I thought I was really good, I got ahead of guys," Hellickson said. "The curveball was really good and I just threw strikes for the most part."
Jeff Keppinger crushed a solo home run, while Desmond Jennings, Jose Lobaton and Elliot Johnson each registered two hits and an RBI as the Rays won their fifth straight contest.
"The offense was good enough," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Lobo (Lobaton), EJ (Johnson), did some nice work, but it all started with the pitching."
Will Smith (4-5) was tagged with the loss after giving up four runs on eight hits and two walks in 3 2/3 innings.
"Command was off for (Smith) tonight, he was either off the plate or down the middle," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You go back and look at all the replays on the base hit and every time they flashed one up there (on the scoreboard) it was down the middle He just battled with his command."
Alex Gordon finished with two hits and knocked in the lone run for the Royals, who had a three-game winning streak snapped.
The Rays struck first in the second inning as Sean Rodriguez worked a one-out walk before Lobaton singled two batters later.
Johnson then stroked a two-out base hit to left field to score Rodriguez, but Lobaton was thrown out at third to end the inning with the Rays holding a 1-0 lead.
The Royals answered in their next at-bat after the first two hitters smacked singles. Alcides Escobar then grounded into a double play, but Gordon followed with a single to second base that Ryan Roberts couldn't corral as Johnny Giavotella crossed home to knot the game at 1-1.
Jennings clubbed a leadoff triple off the top of the wall in right field to start the bottom half and quickly scored when Smith uncorked a wild pitch to give the Rays a 2-1 lead.
Tampa Bay tacked on a run in the fourth as Rodriguez ripped a leadoff double down the third-base line and Lobaton followed two batters later with a single into left-center field to plate Rodriguez for a 3-1 edge.
Johnson then singled before Jennings scorched a double into left field. Lobaton scored on the play, but Johnson was gunned down at the plate to keep the margin at 4-1.
Keppinger's one-out, solo shot in the fifth extended the lead to 5-1, which was more than enough for Hellickson, who allowed just one hit over his final four frames.
J.P. Howell entered in the eighth and retired the Royals in order before Kyle Farnsworth worked around a one-out single in the ninth to nail down the victory.
"We just had a rough game today, not much you can do about that," Smith said. "You're going to have those kind of games, just have to come back and bounce back tomorrow."
Howell's 25 2/3-inning scoreless streak is the longest by any pitcher in Rays history ... Rays third baseman Evan Longoria was given the day off for rest ... The Royals have lost six straight games at Tropicana Field ... Kansas City went 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position and left six on base.