ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jeremy Hellickson was struggling so the Tampa Bay Rays briefly shut him down. Wil Myers was struggling so he kept playing.
Two slumping players, two opposite approaches to solve the problems.
On Wednesday, the two combined to give the Rays a 3-1 victory against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium.
Hellickson, removed from the major-league roster for eight days, returned and pitched 5 1/3 scoreless innings to earn his first win since July 26.
Myers, who remained in the lineup during his 0-for-22 skid, continued to show signs that his slump is behind him by providing all the offense with a pair of home runs – a solo shot in the second inning and a two-run blast in the seventh that landed in the visitor's bullpen that sits behind the Angels' bullpen in left field.
“Those balls were crushed,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “That second really was crushed. That first one was hit well, but that second one definitely left hot. It's nice to see that. We can really use that right about now. Those were our three runs.”
It was the second straight victory for the Rays, who maintained a 2 ˝ game lead on the Yankees for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
That fact that Myers is rallying and Hellickson seemed to respond to the rest can only help the Rays over the final 25 games of the season.
Myers picked up the Rays' offense when he was called up in June. Another hot streak from the rookie outfielder will help an offense that struggled to score runs during the recent stretch where they lost eight out of nine, including five straight.
Myers was 3-for-4 Wednesday and is 7-for-17 since Saturday when he snapped his slump with a ninth-inning double. He also has five hits in his last two games, four of them for extra bases.
“The only way to get through a slump is to keep hitting,” Myers said. “You can't take games off. The only way to get the feel back is to keep playing. It was big to keep being in the lineup.”
Getting Hellickson back to the form that saw him go 8-1 with a 3.17 ERA in 10 starts during June and July will look good in a rotation that features a healthy Alex Cobb and Matt Moore as well as David Price and Chris Archer.
Maddon said he saw some signs from Hellickson to indicate that could happen during Wednesday's outing.
“I thought he was really under control and felt pretty good about himself out there,” Maddon said. “I was looking for that. I didn't see any wear because he had not been out there in a while. I thought his mound presence was intact.”
Hellickson was 0-5 with a 9.00 ERA in his last six starts. He lasted a season-low 2 2/3 innings after giving up five runs on seven hits to the Royals on Aug. 26. The next day the Rays optioned him to Class A Charlotte – a move made on paper only – with the idea of giving the right-hander some time off to clear his mind and rest his body.
Hellickson said he wasn't happy with the move but understood why it was made.
He returned Wednesday after missing only one start and turned in one of his better outings of the season, perhaps his best giving the circumstances.
“I did feel rested,” he said.
Maddon said that rest was evident in Hellickson's fastball, which topped out at 93 mph.
“I thought there was more fastball, and that comes from a more rested arm, rested body,” Maddon said. “So from that perspective I thought it looked pretty good.”
Hellickson breezed through a 10-pitch first inning when he retired the Angels in order.
The first two Angels to bat in the second inning reached base, but Hellickson worked himself out of a jam with runners on the corners and one out by getting an infield pop up and a grounder to second.
Hellickson struck out Josh Hamilton with two runners on base to end the third inning.
He allowed a one-out hit in the fifth but got the next batter to bounce back to the mound and started an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play.
“I wasn't doing anything different than I had been,” Hellickson said. “I got a few breaks. My defense is the best in the league for a reason. (Catcher Jose Molina) called a really good game. I didn't really do too much different than when things weren't going to good. I just got out of a few tough jams and made pitches when I needed to.”
Hellickson retired the first batter he faced in the sixth inning then allowed a double to Mike Trout.
It was a 1-0 game at that point and Maddon didn't want Hellickson to give up the lead. He wanted him to leave Angel Stadium feeling good about himself.
Torres finished the inning as the bullpen backed up Hellickson. Fernando Rodney pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his 32nd save.
“I'm happy,” Hellickson said. “Felt good to get back out there. Felt good to get another win. Hopefully we'll get on another roll this next week or so.”