Nick Markakis’ second-inning grand slam broke the collective backs of the Tampa Bay Rays in a one-sided 7-0 series opener against the Baltimore Orioles. Meanwhile, just before Markakis took Jeremy Hellickson yard, the Rays’ rookie was one strike away from escaping the jam. Preceding the home run was a seven-pitch walk by Orioles’ shortstop J.J. Hardy that loaded the bases and extended the inning for Markakis.
After leading off the game with a solo home run on the second pitch of the night, Hardy found himself batting in the next inning with two on and two out. He has been somewhat of a thorn in the Rays’ side hitting 286/.327/.469 against Tampa Bay coming into Friday’s game. Hellickson started the at-bat with three straight changeups – two of them were fouled off while the middle pitch was taken for a ball. Ahead 1-2, the right-hander threw a 92 MPH that was taken for a ball to even the count.
Early in the game, Hellickson was a little too attached to his curveball. On the 2-2 pitch to Hardy, he threw a curveball which was taken for a ball, bringing the count full. From there, he doubled up on the breaking ball, but his offering was fouled off. On the seventh pitch of the at-bat, Hellickson threw yet another curveball. The pitch was nowhere near the plate resulting in a walk.
Hellickson had another chance to get out of the inning against Markakis, but threw yet another curveball on the first pitch of that at-bat resulting in the grand slam. Coming into the game, Hellickson’s curveball had been an effective pitch this season. In addition to his good hook, Hardy had struggled in limited action against breaking balls. The process there was correct; however the execution was flawed.
Against Markakis, however, Hellickson probably would have been better off going with a changeup rather than another curveball. Hellickson’s best pitch is his off-speed one and Markakis has whiffed around 11% of the time this year when faced with a first-pitch changeup; meanwhile he did has not swung and missed on a first-pitch curve all season (SSS all around).