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Hellickson, Rays bats hot from the start vs. Sox

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Published:   |   Updated: July 5, 2013 at 11:45 PM

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ST. PETERSBURG Desmond Jennings had another three-hit game. So did Luke Scott.

Jose Molina and Kelly Johnson hit back-to-back home runs. Wil Myers drove in two more runs. James Loney got a hit. Again.

The offense rolled Friday night as the Rays beat the White Sox 8-3 in front of 15,825 fans at Tropicana Field to open a 10-game homestand.

The Rays have now won six of their last seven games, nine of their last 12 and 11 of their last 16 to remain afloat in the American League East.

What made Friday night's win possible, and nearly all of their wins during this stretch, was the work of the starting pitcher, and on Friday that pitcher was Jeremy Hellickson.

Rays starters have worked at least six innings in 14 of those 16 games after Hellickson pitched seven innings against the White Sox.

"That makes sense," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "When you do that, when your starters go deep in the game, you can preserve your bullpen even better. It's a greater formula for success when you're able to do that."

Hellickson allowed seven hits and a run, didn't walk a batter and struck out nine. His command was certainly there, evident by the fact that 70 of his 100 pitches were strikes.

Hellickson has won his last four starts and six of his last seven to improve to 8-3. He is 6-1 with a 3.16 ERA over his last seven starts.

"Matt (Moore) and Alex (Cobb) were doing it all year," Hellickson said. "I think it's just a matter of myself picking it up and giving some quality starts. I've been able to do that the last couple of starts."

The Rays remained in fourth place, a half-game behind the Yankees, who rallied in the ninth inning Friday for a walk-off win against the Orioles. The Rays began the day 61?2 games behind the first-place Red Sox, who played late Friday in Anaheim.

To keep pace, and even gain ground, in the division the Rays are going to need this run of good outings from their starting pitchers to continue.

"They've been pitching better, and that's the bottom line," Molina said. "They are concentrating a little more on that. They worry about their business and take care of their business, and they do a very good job their day."

Matt Moore brings a three-game winning streak into tonight's game with the White Sox. David Price pitches Sunday. Chris Archer and Roberto Hernandez have each strung together solid outings. Maddon said this bodes well for his team.

"You can't really get extremely toasty unless your starting pitchers are pitching well," Maddon said before the game. "For right now it's getting kind of that feel back to it. The guys seem to be in good order. We're seeing more normal appearances."

Of course, it doesn't help that the Rays are in the midst of a 14-game stretch that leads to the All-Star break against three of the worst teams in the American League - the Astros, White Sox and Twins - and that the final 10 games are at the Trop.

The Rays are 4-1 in the first five games.

"We've had a very difficult schedule," Maddon said. "We did what we needed to do in Houston. Now we've got to come back home and play well here, also."

Having the offense take the pressure off the starter is never a bad thing. The Rays did that Friday with a five-run second inning that featured home runs from Molina (his second) and Johnson (his 12th).

Jennings singled for his first of his three hits, marking the first time in his career he had three hits in consecutive games. He stole second and scored on a single by Evan Longoria, who returned to third base for the first time in a week.

Loney singled to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 16 games. Myers doubled down the left-field line to score Longoria.

A sac fly by Myers and an RBI single by Scott in the fourth gave the Rays a 7-0 lead. That was the 29th RBI for Scott. One more and he will become the eighth Ray this season with at least 30 RBIs.

The Rays finished their scoring in the fifth inning when Loney walked with the bases loaded.

rmooney@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7227

Twitter: @RMooneyTBO

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