PHOENIX - It was the fifth inning and Jeremy Hellickson’s pitch count was in the 90s again and he’d just walked a batter again and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon was out to make a pitching change. Again.
For the second straight start - both against Arizona - Hellickson struggled with his command, fell behind in the count and failed to record the final out in the fifth inning.
On Tuesday at Chase Field, the result was a 6-1 loss to the Diamondbacks.
“It’s pretty embarrassing to not be able to get through the fifth two games in a row,” Hellickson said.
The Rays dropped 1 1/2 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox after losing the first game of this quick five-game, interleague road trip to the West Coast.
Wade Miley, facing the Rays for the second time in seven days, was not as unhittable as he was back at Tropicana Field when he held them to a pair of hits in 6 1/3 scoreless innings.
Maddon actually said the Rays had a better approach and better at-bats against the left-hander this time around.
The Rays got five hits off Miley Tuesday and actually scored a run, too. That came in the fourth inning when Evan Longoria homered to left field to put the Rays on top. It was Longoria’s team-leading 22nd home run of the season and his first since July 23.
For Maddon, it was more proof that the slumping third baseman has found his groove at the plate.
“The whip at the end of the bat looks to be back,” Maddon said.
That was the good news.
The bad news was Hellickson, who has lost two straight after a 6-0 winning streak because his command is, as he said, “a little off right now.”
And the Diamondbacks made him pay with a four-run fourth.
“We got that run, then Helly gave up that four-spot,” Maddon said. “That really took the momentum away from us. Had we been able to put up a zero after the home run I think it could have been a different game.”
The end began with a leadoff walk to Paul Goldschmidt. Hellickson then fell behind Eric Chavez 3-1 before allowing a run-scoring double to the right field corner.
“I could still limit the damage, but I fell behind 3-1 to Chavez and couldn’t make a big pitch when I needed to,” Hellickson said.
Chavez also had five RBIs in the two games between these teams last week at the Trop.
“I’ve not seen Chavez this good in a couple of years,” Maddon said.
Aaron Hill followed Chavez and Hellickson walked him. Cody Ross then drilled a 2-2 pitch into the left-field seats to make it a 4-1 game.
“To walk Goldschmidt to lead off the inning is not a good thing,” Maddon said. “Then Chavez, a 3-1 double is not a good thing. Then the home run to Ross. When you’re getting behind in the count to guys who are pretty good hitters, that could put you behind the eight ball.
“(Hellickson is) very capable of getting ahead of those guys and getting those guys out. Overall the command within the strike zone is probably not good right now.”
Hellickson issued a two-out walk to Goldschmidt in the fifth to end his night.
He threw 90 pitches Tuesday. He threw 92 in 4 1/3 innings last week against the same bunch.
The Diamondbacks scored another run that inning on - what else? - a double by Chavez off Jamey Wright. That run was also charged to Hellickson.
Hellickson, who recorded his first career hit with a third-inning single, said his command was a little better than it was the first time he faced the Diamondbacks. But it still wasn’t nearly good enough.
“It was still pretty bad,” he said. “They were taking some good pitches, and I couldn’t get an out in the zone.”