For the second time in his managerial career, Joe Maddon used a starting lineup in which his pitcher batted eighth. The first time, it was an accident. This time, it was intentional.
Jeremy Hellickson batted ahead of left fielder Jason Bourgeois on Sunday against the Los Angeles Dodgers — and pitched like a No. 8 hitter. The right-hander lasted only three innings, giving up four runs and seven hits in an 8-2 loss to Clayton Kershaw and the NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers.
Hellickson (10-6) gave up four runs and seven hits through three innings in his first career start against the Dodgers, marking the sixth time in Tampa Bay's last nine games that its starting pitcher didn't last five innings.
The right-hander's 4.93 ERA is the highest among major league pitchers with at least 10 wins. Hellickson has surrendered 13 runs in 12 innings over his last three starts, after going 6-0 with a 2.09 ERA over his previous seven outings. He is 1-6 with a 7.19 ERA in 10 career interleague outings.
"I'm not pitching well," Hellickson said. "The last few games I've been in spots where I need to make a big pitch with two out to get me deeper into the game, and every time I didn't get the job done. Tonight I felt good with all three of my pitches and I thought the command was there, but I lust left some balls up. The last two weeks have been very frustrating, but I'll be OK."
Hellickson, who came in with one hit in five big league at-bats, struck out looking his only time up. He was the fourth AL pitcher to bat higher than ninth since interleague play began in 1977, along with David Phelps for the Yankees on May 8, Zack Greinke for Kansas City in 2009, and Andy Sonnanstine for the Rays in 2009.
Sonnanstine had to bat third that day because of a lineup mistake by Maddon that had Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria both starting at third base. As a result, the Rays were forced to lose their designated hitter — Longoria — for the entire game.
Other managers over the years also have batted their starting pitcher in the eighth spot, including Tony La Russa, Ned Yost and Joe Torre — who did it twice with Kershaw.
"I was basing that off of the fact that I wanted to get Wil Myers in the two hole, and the fact that Hellickson had not been pitching well recently," Maddon explained. "So there might have been a chance to pinch-hit sooner as opposed to if he was in the nine hole. Sometimes, even one batter can make a difference."
Not on this night. The Rays lost their season-worst fifth in a row and remained three games behind AL East-leading Boston following the Red Sox's loss at Kansas City.
Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis opened the Dodgers' three-run second inning with singles, and both advanced on Juan Uribe's third sacrifice bunt of the season before Kershaw drove them in with a sharp two-out single through the left side of the infield. Carl Crawford then singled and Mark Ellis doubled home Kershaw.
"We watched a lot of film on Hellickson. This guy's got an amazing sinker, works both sides of the plate, and when his changeup is right it's really a difference maker," A.J. Ellis said. "Tonight we were just looking for balls up in the middle of the zone."
A.J. Ellis made it 4-0 in the third with a sacrifice fly, and the Dodgers tacked on two more in the fourth on a two-out double by Adrian Gonzalez that raised his team-high RBI total to 74. Mark Ellis added his sixth homer in the sixth, a two-run shot against Josh Lueke.
Kershaw (11-7) lowered his major league-leading ERA to 1.88 with eight innings of three-hit ball and struck out eight. Tampa Bay's only hits off the left-hander through the first seven innings came in the fifth, a leadoff single by Yunel Escobar and a two-out triple by pinch-hitter Sam Fuld.
"Kershaw's got good mound presence, beyond whatever he throws," Maddon said. "But we didn't give ourselves a chance the last couple of days at all."
The Rays loaded the bases with none out in the eighth and Myers drove in their second run with a sacrifice fly. The run was unearned because of shortstop Dee Gordon's fielding error. Gordon also committed throw errors in the third and sixth innings, but Kershaw erased both mistakes by retiring the next batter on a double-play grounder.
The Dodgers increased their division lead over Arizona to a season-best 7½ games with their seventh series sweep of 2013. They improved to a major league-best 37-8 since June 22, including a franchise-record 15-game road winning streak.
"We're a pretty good team right now, and it's a lot of fun coming to the yard every day and winning games," Kershaw said. "I think the guys in this clubhouse realize that we've got a pretty good opportunity here that we don't want to waste."
The Dodgers finished their interleague schedule 11-6, their first winning record against AL clubs since going 10-8 in 2004, and the Rays completed their interleague slate 12-8.
NOTES: The Rays intentionally walked rookie sensation Yasiel Puig for the fourth time in the series — two more than he had in his 57 previous big league games combined. ... Kershaw is 49-0 in his career when the Dodgers score four or more runs while he is in the game.